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Push for Mandatory Kindergarten Gains Momentum

NEW YORK — Kindergarten could soon be mandatory in New York City, thanks to new legislation the state Assembly passed Monday.

The legislation would allow the city to require that all children who turn 5 by Dec. 1 attend kindergarten that year.

Now, nearly 3,000 5-year-olds across the city do not enroll in kindergarten each year, which means they miss out on learning critical early education skills, politicians and advocates say.

"As an outspoken advocate for early childhood education, I applaud the passage of this bill," Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said. "This gives New York City the appropriate level of control over mandatory kindergarten education."

Parents would still be able to home-school their children or send them to private school for kindergarten, Silver said.

Before mandatory kindergarten could go into effect, the bill would have to pass the GOP-led state Senate and be signed into law by the governor. Then New York City would have to enact its own change to its current policy.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has been a strong advocate for mandatory kindergarten, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg has raised concerns about its cost, which he estimated at $30 million a year, according to reports.

Department of Education officials, however, told reporters earlier this year that adding 3,000 kindergarteners to the system would not require any extra money, because they could be accommodated in existing space.

Quinn, Council Education Chairman Robert Jackson and Councilman Stephen Levin released a statement Monday praising the Assembly's vote.

"Thousands of children enter first grade every year having never set foot in a classroom because under current city and state law, children do not have to enroll in kindergarten," the politicians said in the statement.

"[The] Assembly's passage of legislation to allow New York City to make kindergarten mandatory is a major step towards ensuring a strong educational start for New York's 5-year-olds."