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Nevada students may be mandated to start school at age 5

Updated March 22, 2017 - 10:21 pm

Nevada students would be mandated to start school by age 5 and could start as young as 4 in pre-kindergarten programs under a bill introduced in the Assembly on Wednesday.

Assembly Bill 186 was introduced by Assemblywoman Olivia Diaz, D-North Las Vegas, during an Assembly Education Committee meeting. The committee took no action on the bill.

“We know from an abundant amount of studies that, the earlier we make this investment, the greater the return,” Diaz said. “There’s many of our students who are not privileged to attend a preschool program. A lot of them lag behind when they finally come through our school gates.”

School districts would be required to establish pre-kindergarten programs. Some schools have programs now, funded through federal and state grants. The state estimates less than 15 percent of 4-year-olds are served in a pre-kindergarten program.

The bill would also move the compulsory school attendance age from 7 to 5, forcing more students into kindergarten. Districts are mandated to offer kindergarten programs already, but families do not have to enroll their children.

The Department of Education projected that doing both would cost $176 million for fiscal 2017-18 and $178 million in fiscal 2018-19. Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed budget does not include the funding for this bill.

Representatives from the Clark and Washoe county school districts spoke in support of the bill.

Lowering the compulsory age drew the most criticism, including from the Nevada Homeschool Network.

“Our basic premise is that parents need to be the one who decides when their children enter school,” said Elissa Wahl, the organization’s chairwoman. “The biggest sticking point is that this is not voluntary.”

Assemblyman Chris Edwards, R-Las Vegas, also cautioned against too much of a good thing.

“We have to be careful of pushing kids too early because of maturity level. My concern is that we don’t get to the point where we’re pushing kids to get into pre-K when they’re simply not mature enough,” he said.

Nevada Families for Freedom focused on the cost of the program, saying more taxpayer dollars would be used to “institutionalize little children.”

“Government preschool programs don’t work and are costly for taxpayers. The schools are already having difficulty accomplishing what they are supposed to do,” the organization wrote in a letter to the committee.

Contact Meghin Delaney at 702-383-0281 or mdelaney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter.

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