Legislators and educators on the Mississippi Coast are expressing their support for legislation that would make kindergarten mandatory in the state. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports.
"And do you enjoy kindergarten?" State Representative Sonya Williams-Barnes of Gulfport asks a group of kindergarten students about their experience in school.
"Yes!" they respond.
"And tell me what you learn in kindergarten," she asks.
"We learn science!" responds one child, while others add: "Math!" "Reading!"
Williams-Barnes has introduced a bill that would lower the compulsory school age from 6, to 5 years old, essentially making kindergarten mandatory.
The majority of Mississippi school children already attend kindergarten, so she says the law would have a minimum fiscal impact. But, she contends, educationally it would make a big difference, especially in meeting the state’s new third grade reading requirements.
"In order for us to ensure that our children are reading by third grade, we must ensure they are in the classroom by age 5, in kindergarten," she says.
In the Pascagoula School District, superintendent Wayne Rodolfich says about 85 percent of students already attend kindergarten. But he says requiring 100 percent to attend could have a lasting impact.
"It impacts your graduation rate," he says. "Down the road, it gives you a percentage point or two higher - that's three or four more children who finish with a diploma. That's a low estimate, but every child counts. If we can move one more child as a result of this, it matters to that child."
Similar bills have not made it through the legislature the past few years, and House Education committee chair John Moore indicated last week he was not in favor of the idea.