Schools seek change in education reform

Some ask state to modify kindergarten requirement with pilot program option

General Assembly

March 10, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Several school systems in the state are seeking modification of the requirement that they provide full-day kindergarten for all children by 2007, a costly element of a landmark education reform plan passed two years ago that Maryland's schools chief says is "an issue of equity."

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would roll back state-mandated, full-day kindergarten and give local school systems the option of trying for three years their own method of evaluating which children need the extra instruction.

Counties that choose to "opt in" to the pilot program would then submit to the State Department of Education test results for all kindergartners, assessing whether children in half-day programs were as prepared for first grade as those enrolled in all-day programs.

Del. Susan W. Krebs, a Carroll County Republican and former president of the county's school board, offered the option in an amendment to her bill yesterday at a House committee hearing.

Calvert County has requested an exemption from state-mandated kindergarten unless or until the General Assembly can provide all the money it would need to build additional kindergarten classrooms and develop a full-day program.

And Del. Joan Cadden, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, has introduced a bill that would give school systems an extra four years - until the 2011-2012 school year - to implement full-day kindergarten for all children, although schools serving disadvantaged children would still be held to the original 2007-2008 deadline.

Krebs said she hoped the amendment to her bill would make the measure "a little more palatable" to legislators who might oppose her proposed reversal of a key piece of the Thornton Commission reforms - that all kindergartners be enrolled in full-day programs by the 2007-2008 school year.

"This bill in no way undermines the provisions of Thornton," Krebs told members of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Rather, the legislation would allow some flexibility for counties that can't afford to build the classrooms needed for all-day kindergarten or would prefer to use resources to tackle different priorities, such as reducing class sizes or building schools.

But state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick voiced resistance to the proposal, telling the committee that while disadvantaged children certainly benefit the most from all-day kindergarten, every kindergartner can benefit from full-day instruction.

"I feel very strongly about this opportunity for all children and don't want to find out several years too late that this would have been a good child to have in full-day kindergarten," she said. "This is an issue of equity."

Members on the Ways and Means Committee also heard yesterday from children and family advocates, the state teachers union president and a coalition of education groups that oppose a bill that would give the state four more years to find the money to fully fund the $1.3 billion Thornton Commission education reforms.

Del. Van T. Mitchell, a Charles County Democrat who proposed the bill, said it would "give the state some breathing room" to deal with Maryland's budget crisis without risking the much-needed education funding.

But opponents said schoolchildren need the programs now.

The original Thornton legislation "effectively asked for the patience of students, parents and teachers," Pat Foerster, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, told the committee. "We oppose whole-heartedly ... any further delay."

Assembly on baltimoresun.com

Learn the names of your representatives and how to contact them and how to register to vote.

Read the text of proposed legislation, including the witness intimidation bill, HB 296; the bill to extend Thornton funding, HB922; and the proposed state constitutional amendment on budget-writing, HB 1247; and bills on all-day kindergarten, HB 711, HB 695, and HB 428.

www.baltimoresun.com/assembly

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