ALBANY – Kindergarten attendance in Buffalo will no longer be an option but required under legislation Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law today, which advocates call a boost for early learning that will eventually lead to better high school graduation rates.
The measure had been stalled in the past, but got a boost this year when the Utica school system got a similar bill through the Legislature. Rochester, Syracuse and New York City already mandate kindergarten attendance by 5-year-olds.
In a separate bill that had its roots in a Western New York crime, Cuomo is also planning to sign a measure that puts into the state’s current anti-stalking laws the use of an electronic device to follow someone with the intent of harming them.
The law was prompted by the 2012 fatal shooting of Jackie Wisniewski in Erie County Medical Center, where she worked, by Dr. Timothy V. Jorden Jr., her estranged boyfriend, who installed a GPS tracking device in her vehicle to follow her movements. Jorden later killed himself.
Administration officials confirmed both bills will be approved by the governor today, which is at the end of a 10-day deadline for him to act on both measures sent to him earlier this month by the Legislature.
The Buffalo kindergarten bill passed the Legislature in June, and ends the option of parents being able to send their five year-olds to day care or Head Start or keep them home. Instead, they will now have to be in the city’s full-day kindergarten program.
Backers of the measure say gone are the days when kindergarten was for only playing and drawing, and that the grade level has become an important start in the early learning abilities of children to read, write and perform basic math. Teachers and administrators say children who skip kindergarten and don’t start a formal education until first grade often find themselves struggling to keep pace with the instruction at that grade level.
“Early education can be one of the most important factors in a student’s long-term development – and ensuring that all children in the Buffalo city school districts attend kindergarten is a great way to unlock their future potential,’’ Cuomo said in a statement provided to The Buffalo News.
“I am proud to sign this legislation into law and I thank the bill’s sponsors for their vision and dedication on this issue,’’ he added.
School officials say the law also will reduce kindergarten absenteeism rates – second only to ninth-grade levels in the Buffalo system – because parents will no longer be able to view kindergarten as simply an option where they can drop their kids off for a few days or so each week.
The measure was sponsored by Democratic Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti, both from Buffalo.
“We have to front-load education when children are young, curious and engaged, and that means making sure children attend kindergarten,’’ John Licata, who recently left as a member of the Buffalo Board of Education, said when the measure passed last month. He was a driving force behind getting the measure on Albany’s radar screen.
Officials have said the new law could add as many as 600 students a year to the school system depending on the year and population demographics.
On the GPS legislation Cuomo also is signing today, the state’s current anti-stalking law is silent on the use of such tracking devices used against victims. The measure was sponsored by Peoples-Stokes and Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Buffalo Democrat.
Before she was murdered in June 2012, Wisniewski found a tracking device on her car that had been installed by Jorden, who had been following her with the GPS for three months. She did not file charges against him for fear it would upset him.
Backers say the new provision will make it easier for stalking victims to also obtain orders of protection in family courts while cases against their stalkers proceed in criminal courts. The new measure came with a compromise: The version proposed in 2013 allowed police to charge someone who used a GPS to stalk someone with a felony, but the 2014 bill signed by Cuomo amends the law to make it a Class B misdemeanor.
The law’s signing comes after a two-year campaign by the victim’s family.