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Families concerned new law shuts out 4-year-olds from attending kindergarten

Schools would take funding hit of $6,000/student
Posted at 1:49 PM, Apr 25, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS—  A new law already in effect could change the way you send your child to kindergarten.

A west side family got quite the shock when they found out they can’t send their daughter to kindergarten this summer. They reached out to Call 6 Investigates with their concerns.

Jasmine Edwards, age 4, loves to learn and currently attends an On My Way Pre-K program in Wayne Township.

Jasmine Edwards turns 5 on Aug. 2, one day after the deadline for kindergarten enrollment in Indiana.

“She meets or exceeds all of their expectations on the kindergarten readiness test to be able to advance to kindergarten,” said Benjamin Edwards, father of Jasmine.

Jasmine hopes to attend kindergarten at nearby Rhoades Elementary or Garden City Elementary School.

But her kindergarten dreams were dashed when her dad Benjamin got a call from her Pre-K teacher.

“She told us Jasmine was going to have to repeat Pre-K,” said Edwards. 

Governor Eric Holcomb signed into law House Enrolled Act 1001 on March 19.

The law says you have to be five years old on or before August 1 to start kindergarten.

School districts can give waivers for students to attend kindergarten, but if they do, under the new law they will take a funding hit of approximately $6,000 per student.

“That is a lot of money and I understand that,” said Edwards. “We just want her to be able to advance with the rest of her classmates and not have to be held back because she's just generally too smart for that."

Edwards spoke out at a recent Wayne Township school board meeting, and the district was sympathetic.

Currently, Wayne Township has 98 students on kindergarten waivers, which is about $650,000 in state funding they would stand to lose if they let Jasmine Edwards and other four year old students attend kindergarten during the 2018-2019 school year.

“We sympathized with the concern that Mr. Edwards shared and that the change to Indiana Code from the 2018 General Assembly occurred immediately, impacting his daughter,” said district spokeswoman Mary Lang. “Since this change occurred as a result of legislation this year, we encouraged Mr. Edwards to reach out to his legislators to share his thoughts in the hope that he can influence change for the future. The MSD of Wayne Township will remain responsive to any future changes in statute that may occur as a result.”

Call 6 Investigates contacted Sen. Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen), the state lawmaker who pushed for the legislation.

Mishler said the change was put into place to address rising kindergarten enrollment.

“When looking into the increased enrollment for the 2017-2018 school year, one of the main factors was a significant increase in 4-year-old students who were appealing to enroll in kindergarten early and then repeating kindergarten in the next year,” said Mishler in an email to RTV6. “We found that some schools were using this as a kind of state-funded pre-K program, which is not the intent of the school funding formula.”

The change is expected to save $18.5 million next year.

Mishler emphasized it’s still up to the schools to decide if they want to accept a 4-year-old kindergartner.

“Parents can still appeal to the school for their child to attend kindergarten at 4, and it is still the school's decision to accept a student at 4 years old if they believe the child is kindergarten ready,” said Mishler in an email to RTV6.

Parents like Benjamin Edwards are urging state lawmakers to reconsider penalizing schools who take students early, like his daughter Jasmine.

Time is running out, because kindergarten enrollment is May 16.

"The clock is ticking,” said Edwards. “She'll have to go back and re-learn everything she's already learned, and she's above that. There's other parents out there that this is affecting and it's not just about her."

Senator Mishler said while this is a done deal for the 2018-2019 school year, the legislature can review the issue during the next budget and make any changes if necessary.  

“Originally, I suggested a percentage of retention or using the September enrollment date as the cut-off date for inclusion in the funding formula,” said Mishler in an email. “During conference committee, the House suggested changing it to August 1. This is the standard date currently in statute for kindergarten students. We also use this date for voucher eligibility. I believe their intent was to use the August 1 date to keep it consistent.”

Call 6 Investigates checked with several other school districts who said they are trying to address the new legislation and its impact on kindergarten enrollment.

“We are extremely concerned about how this will impact those children who are developmentally ready to enter Kindergarten and will not be able to, as well as the loss of the accompanying state funding for those students,” said Dana Altemeyer, spokeswoman for MSD Lawrence Township. “This district is working to develop a plan for those student impacted who are ready for Kindergarten.” 

Indianapolis Public Schools released the following guidance on the issue, saying “this new law will have an immediate effect on families applying to IPS kindergarten programs for the 2018-19 school year and beyond.”

MSD of Pike Township is also concerned about the impact of the law.

“Unfortunately, the new legislation does make it financially prohibitive for schools to accept students who do not meet the August 1 birthdate requirement,” said district spokeswoman Sarah Dorsey. “Our board is in the process of studying this issue and will make a determination regarding how our district will handle this matter in the coming weeks.”

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