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Kindergarten requirement sees strong support in House committee

MONTGOMERY, Ala – Children in Alabama may soon be required to either attend kindergarten or pass a first grade entry readiness assessment test were a new bill to become law.

Sponsored by Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, House Bill 43 would introduce a mandate for children to begin their education earlier than what is currently required. Under Alabama law, children may enter the public school system beginning in first grade.

While the bill has failed to pass in past legislative sessions, Gov. Kay Ivey voiced support for the measure during her State of the State address this year in March.

The bill was approved in the House Education Policy Committee on Wednesday and moves to the full House for a vote.

Warren told Alabama Daily News that she came up with the bill after witnessing the disparity between students’ education when entering the first grade firsthand. She’s introduced the bill every year since 2019.

Rep. Pebblin Warren has carried the kindergarten mandate bill since 2019.

“It’s unfair to that student (who isn’t prepared for first grade), it’s unfair to the other students, and it’s a disservice to the teacher that they can’t just teach their curriculum,” Warren said.

Warren attended a January board meeting of the Alabama State Department of Education, where one of the topics discussed was first-grade readiness. As governor, Ivey sits as the president of the State Board of Education.

“They brought it up, and (Ivey) heard what I’ve been trying to do and said ‘Why are we not doing this?’ and that’s when she realized what my bill was saying,” Warren said. “They’re going to have to be assessed to make sure they have those main competences they need to start first grade.”

In an email on Tuesday, Ivey’s office reaffirmed the governor’s support of Warren’s bill. Gina Maiola, Ivey’s communications director, wrote that “the governor looks forward to this bill reaching her desk and signing it into law so that our first grade teachers can be preparing students for the second grade, not simply catching them up to be on a first-grade level.”

Several House Education Policy Committee members told Alabama Daily News they will vote for the bill.

“I think (Warren) has a great bill because when you think about early education, those are the pivotal moments of child development,” Rep. Jeremy Gray, D-Opelika, told Alabama Daily News.

“Making sure a child is actually going to kindergarten and ready for the first grade (is important) because once they get to the third grade, they have to be proficient in reading with the Literacy Act. I commend Gov. Ivey for making it a part of her address.”

Passed in 2019, the Literacy Act introduced regular reading assessments for K-3 students to begin in the 2022 school year, mandating that students who cannot read proficiently by the third grade be held back. 

While lawmakers last year postponed the implementation of the Literacy Act until 2024, data from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama found that for the 2021 school year, approximately 23% of third graders would have been held back under the new law.

One Education Policy Committee member, Rep. Bob Fincher, R-Woodland, remained more neutral on the bill, while still noting the benefits that a kindergarten mandate could bring.
“It may be time in our state that we do mandate the requirement of kindergarten, (as) it does put first grade teachers in an awkward position,” Fincher told Alabama Daily News. 

“Without (kindergarten) being mandated, they end up with some students who have had no preschool experience. I’ve got an open mind willing to listen to the arguments again.”

Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, the chair of the Education Policy Committee, told Alabama Daily News she has advocated for the bill for years.

“I have supported it, I’ve even in the past gone to the Senate with the sponsor to speak in favor of the bill,” Collins said. “It’s one of the most important things that I think we can do to be ready for the Literacy Act, to have our children prepared whether they start in first grade or in kindergarten.”

Other committee members, including Reps. Alan Baker, R-Brewton, and Tracy Estes, R-Winfield, and Barbara Drummond, D-Mobile, told Alabama Daily News that they also fully supported the bill. Having served on the Winfield City Board of Education for 15 years, Estes said his experience with education gave him a “different perspective” on the proposal, despite concerns over implementing mandates of any kind.

“I know the word ‘mandatory’ frightens a lot of people, and I’m a conservative myself and it does frighten me, but at the same time I see how much money the state of Alabama is pouring into our pre-k program, and to me it seems like we’re doing our children a disservice by (not) requiring kindergarten,” Estes said. “This kindergarten bill is more critical than ever before to make sure we don’t lose that year of learning.”

In the education sector, both the School Superintendents of Alabama (SSA) and the Alabama Independent School Association (AISA) noted the benefits of mandating either kindergarten or a first grade readiness assessment.

“SSA would like to see kindergarten required for all students so that every child enters first grade on equal footing and ready to learn,” wrote Ryan Hollingsworth, executive director of SSA, in an email to Alabama Daily News. “We’ve worked with the sponsor on this bill in the past and look forward to continuing that collaboration this session.”


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