Four-year-olds too young to start kindergarten, say Michigan lawmakers

Jun 1, 2012

For now, four-year-olds in Michigan can enroll in kindergarten as long as they turn five by December 1, but that may change over the next few years as legislators consider when kids are socially mature enough to enter school.

The Michigan House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday that would gradually change the age requirement of kindergarten enrollees over the course of three years.

HB 4513 would require that kids entering kindergarten turn five years old by November 1 for the 2013-2014 school year, October 1 for the 2014-2015 school year and September 1 for the 2015-2016 school year.

Parents of kids who meet the current December 1 cutoff would still be allowed to enroll their kids in kindergarten as long as they submit written notification to the schools. The schools can then recommend that the parents wait until the following year, but the decision ultimately remains with the family.

The state Senate unanimously passed a similar bill in early May. At the time, the bill’s author state Sen. Darwin Booher (R-Evart) told MLive that many four-year-olds just aren’t socially mature enough to start school.

“We all think our children are the smartest children in the world. We understand that. But we also recognize that it puts a real burden on our teachers,” he said after the vote.

“At the committee hearings, kindergarten teacher after kindergarten teacher was saying, ‘Do this! Do this! We have real problems in our schools.’ It’s not that the kids aren’t smart enough. There are behavioral issues, and a large percent are those 4-year-olds. That takes away from the rest of the children.”

Booher said there are increasing academic demands placed on first-graders, and schools have said they are struggling to get the younger kindergarten students prepared.

“The problem areas are more with those students who were 4 years old when they came in. They end up staying back because you can’t move them up,” he said. “So is it better to start them later, or start them and have them repeat a kindergarten class, and cost all of our taxpayers again?”

The Senate Fiscal Agency estimates that the bill could save the state about $50 million in its first year.

The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Ray Franz (R-Onekama) now heads to the state Senate for approval.

- Suzanne Jacobs, Michigan Radio Newsroom