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Kindergarten to be mandatory for Buffalo five-year olds

WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

Kindergarten is expected to be mandatory for five year olds in Buffalo this fall if Governor Cuomo signs a bill approved by the state Legislature. In our Focus on Education report -- WBFO'S Eileen Buckley talked to the city school district and an early childhood expert about the importance of kindergartner in a student’s development and learning.

 "We're very excited about the impact this will have on our community," said Interim Buffalo Schools Superintendent Will Keresztes.

State lawmakers approved a bill in Albany Wednesday. The fight started with outgoing Buffalo School board member John Licata who made sure the board approved a resolution for mandatory kindergarten in the city that called on the state to approve it. 

New York City, Rochester and Syracuse already have the rule in place. Keresztes noted requiring parents to send their five-year old to kindergarten should improve attendance rates and boost enrollment. 

"There are roughly 40% of our kindergartens who experience chronic or sever chronic absence.That means they are missing  anywhere from ten to 20-percent of the school year," said Keresztes.   "It isn’t that parents don't want their children in school or that parents about casual about education -- is that often families in poverty face barriers."

But a bill now awaits the Governor's signature.

The mandatory kindergarten requirement is slated to begin this fall.  This year's Buffalo Schools absentee rate was at 48-percent for kindergartners.  

"It's a surprise. Most people think that it is the older children who have the greatest absenteeism. But when you look at the statistics, it's really the children in the pre-K and kindergarten, as well as children in the 9th grade that have the highest absenteeism rate," said Barbara Seals, Buffalo School Board president.  "Parents not really thinking it's not mandatory."

Seals Nevergold said she believes this should be a great foundation for learning in later school years.

"Getting foundation for early learning is critical to later learning," said Seals Nevergold.

WBFO News reached a local expert on early childhood education.  University at Buffalo professor Christine Wang  is interim director of UB's Early Childhood Research Center.  

"Early childhood education is important. They are forming learning abilities," said Wang.

Wang tells WBFO it's surprising that kindergarten has not been mandatory in the state because it's critical in a child's development.

"Especially in the urban, poor areas.  Early childhood programs would have a great potential to make up a lot of disadvantage those kids face in their homes and communities, so I think this is great news," noted Wang.  

With the new mandatory rule,  enrollment would likely increase in the Buffalo district and overtime, school officials say it could improve future graduation rates.