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Georgia legislature may change kindergarten cutoff age
Kelly Caldwell, a teacher at Cumming Elementary, registers her son, Tyler, for kindergarten Friday. - photo by Kayla Robins

FORSYTH COUNTY — If proposed legislation is passed during the 2015 Georgia General Assembly, children with birthdays toward the end of summer may have to wait an extra year to start kindergarten.

House Bill 100 would require potential students to be 5 years old by Aug. 1 for the 2017-18 school year or by July 1 for the 2018-19 school year. The current cutoff date is Sept. 1.

District 25 Rep. Mike Dudgeon, a Republican from south Forsyth, said a change was made last week to the original language of the bill. Initially the dates would have become effective this fall, but legislators thought that may be too sudden.

“It passed out of the House education committee [Wednesday], so now it’s moving to the House floor,” said Dudgeon, who previously served a term on the Forsyth County Board of Education.

He said the reason behind the bill, which neither he nor any other members of the Forsyth delegation co-sponsored, was simply to line up with school start dates.

“We start school earlier now,” he said. “It used to start in September, so that was normal. But now most districts start in August.”

Twenty-six states have a kindergarten cutoff date in September. If passed, Georgia would join nine others, including North Carolina and Tennessee, that require children to be 5 in August, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The rest of the states have dates throughout the calendar, including simply needing to have turned 5 by the first day of school.

Dudgeon said lawmakers heard from schools and principals in favor of having “kids slightly older” to begin public school instruction.

Forsyth County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden said he remains neutral on the matter and that there are three possible effects of the bill.

“For some, delaying could be an advantage to get an extra year of maturity,” he said. “But there are a lot of kids with the current age requirements we have who are ready, especially with the community we have.”

Forsyth is afforded high numbers of involved parents, he said, who prepare their children at early ages.

“A third category is that not allowing them to start at the current age may even be a disadvantage … What resources are they going to have if they don’t have the public school giving it to them?”

Regardless of the bill’s outcome, Bearden’s neutrality will remain because “it really is dependent on each individual child.”