EDUCATION: Mandatory kindergarten for Rochester?

David Gantt. FILE PHOTO


Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas says he expects the State Legislature to pass a bill that would let the Rochester school board make kindergarten mandatory. The school board would have to follow up with its own legislation.

Kindergarten attendance is mandatory for 5 year olds in 11 states, but not New York. New York State Assembly member David Gantt and Senator Joe Robach have introduced the Rochester bills in their individual bodies.

The law would apply only to the Rochester public schools, not private institutions or home-school instruction.

Vargas is eager to have stronger enforcement of student attendance, and good attendance habits begin in the earlier years. But many Rochester kindergartners miss more than 20 days of school, Vargas says.

Considering that the majority of city kindergartners enter school with limited vocabularies, school officials say they are already behind academically before walking in the door.



  1. a charlotte resident · · Reply

    So why not send these kids to “headstart” first?

  2. The question from “a charlotte resident” makes a lot of sense. Since we know without a doubt “that the majority of city kindergartners enter school with limited vocabularies [not to mention a whole array of other issues that huge numbers of our students bring with them to school, which represent obstacles to educating them well, and since we know without a doubt that huge numbers] are already behind academically before walking in the door” — then wouldn’t it make even more sense for those who want to do something really “revolutionary” to help our children — to introduce legislation that “would let the Rochester school board make [head start] mandatory?” This is the type of move that would be convincing regarding leaders so-called desires to REALLY help our children.

  3. Darla Spafford-Davis · · Reply

    Head Start is a great program, but I would not want it to be mandatory. More available, better funded to serve more children- absolutely! But mandatory feels a bit uncomfortable to me. I am all for public schools, but I would not want the government saying that I “have to” (as in, “it is mandatory”) send my very young child to ANY sort of preschool program.

    And let’s not forget that the RCSD does have a UPK program- FREE preschool for any child age 4 (before Dec 1) in the city of Rochester. But the program never fills. After so many weeks, they open the program up to 3-year-olds, because it never fills with 4-year-olds. My youngest attended UPK last school year (2010-2011), and there were maybe 15 slots filled, and usually only 8 kids showed up.

    Of course, adding busing to the UPK program could help with that issue.

    The point I am trying to make is that the RCSD DOES offer programs (Head Start, UPK..and let’s not forget Monroe County Early Intervention, for kids who really need some extra help to get started) to its youngest residents. Sure, they could be improved…but the programs do exist.

    And by the way, I am in agreement with Kindergarten becoming mandatory. As it stands now, no child needs to go to Kindergarten, so the district is defenseless to address Kindergarten students who miss school. I see this as a first step to addressing the “Kindergarten truancy” issue. Hopefully the district will follow up with some improvements in busing, bus schedules, school assignments, etc., that will support families in getting their young kids to school.

  4. Anonymous · · Reply

    This is the ground floor that sets the precedence for students’ academic success. i agree with making Pre-School mandatory, especially students from low income areas. The emergent literacy stage is one of THE most important stages of becoming successful in the Language Arts. Children from households that can afford quality child care at the age 0f 3-4 have better academic success rates than children who start school in kindergarten. and no structual learing experince prior to kindergarten.
    they are being taught

  5. In my unequivocal view, in light of the growing academic crisis, particularly among the poorest children in the City of Rochester, if “the government [can] say that [people] have to (as in, it is mandatory) send [their] very young [5-year-old] child” to kindergarten — then there is nothing wrong with mandating that people have to send their 3 or 4-year old children to Head Start, especially after acknowledging that 3 and 4-year-olds are supposedly already attending Pre-K programs. Yet, we know that the real issue is that it’s the families who are most stable and secure who are generally able to afford safe childcare, transportation, etc…, which makes it possible to participate currently, and which IS the reason why currently — “the program never fills,” i.e., many cannot afford safe childcare and transportation. Thus, common sense alone dictates that if the necessary infrastructure is not going to be put in place — then the result is not going to change. If Legislators really want to help children who need it the most — by seriously considering properly and adequately-supported, mandatory, Head Start legislation — perhaps they can include a clause to allow relatively wealthy and privileged families to opt-out.

  6. Darla Spafford-Davis · · Reply

    I agree that the necessary infrastructure NEEDS TO BE PUT IN PLACE to improve the existing programs and to make them more accessible to the people who need them most, as I previously stated re: busing to the UPK programs & more funding to Head Start so it can serve more children.

    I, however, do not believe that the government has the right to MANDATE that parents send their very young children to school. PARENTS have the right to make that decision for their very young children. (They in fact have the right to do that for any child, as is evidenced by the home schooling movement).

    I am surprised, “walkthewalk1” that someone who is so pro-the-people would agree with the idea of allowing government to mandate PARENTING decisions. THAT is my issue with mandatory preschool- government cannot step in & mandate parenting. Unless you are saying that you think that relatively lower-income & less-privileged people in the city of Rochester are incapable of raising their own children? But I don’t believe you actually think that. For the record, I don’t believe that, either.

    Child Protective Services (via “the government”) exists to protect the children of people who, for whatever reason, are unable to “do right” by their kids. But except for those extreme cases, child-raising is a personal business, and the government should have minimal say in parenting decisions.

    Head Start & UPK are great programs. Fund them. Add busing. Add wrap-around day care. Send out caseworkers door-to-door to inform parents of the programs & assist with completing applications. But mandatory…that is a bit too much government involvement in parenting for my comfort level.

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