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New Law Helps Kindergarten Attendance - But Some Legislators Pushing For More

By Evelina Burnett | Published 26 Jun 2014 09:57am | comments

Kindergarten in Mississippi is not mandatory, but a Gulfport legislator would like to change that by lowering the compulsory school age to 5 years old. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, a new law already seems to be improving the attendance of the many kindergarteners.

The law went into effect last year. It doesn’t require kids to start kindergarten – but if they do, they have to follow the state’s mandatory attendance law. Kenitra Barnes, principal of Pass Christian Elementary School, says this has really helped improve attendance among kindergarteners.

"I saw a huge difference," Barnes says. "We believe that drop-out prevention begins in kindergarten, and it's very important that our parents are partners with us and help to instill in their child the importance of giving their best every single day. And that begins when you're five, once you've started school - we really believe that."

Pass Christian had one of the state’s first kindergarten programs in the mid-1970s. Sonya Williams-Barnes is the daughter of one of the teachers in that program. Now a state representative from Gulfport, she’s introduced a bill to lower the compulsory age several times and plans to do so again.

"My reasoning for encouraging age 5 is because if we are going to start making some requirements for students to read and write on a certain level at age 8, why not make sure that they are in that classroom at age 5," she says.

State representative John Moore, chair of the House education committee, says he doubts there’s the political will to mandate kindergarten, and he believes the state is already moving forward with a good plan that will accomplish much the same thing.

"We've moved through with the kindergarten collaboratives a couple of years ago, that are really ramping up, and we intend to put a little more money in those," Moore says. "So we can use the local resources that are out there - the day care centers, and the church kindergartens, and the ones that are in business - without actually stepping up to a mandated kindergarten situation."

The state awarded grants to 11 early learning collaboratives last year. 

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