Illinois Senate passes bill requiring kindergarten for all 5-year-olds

Illinois Senate passes bill requiring kindergarten for all 5-year-olds

Lowering the compulsory age to attend school from 6 to 5 would tie Illinois for the lowest compulsory attendance age in the nation.

Parents will have less choice about their child’s readiness for school if state lawmakers pass a bill lowering the mandatory school age from 6 to 5 years old.

Senate Bill 2075 would mandate that all Illinois parents enroll their 5-year-olds in kindergarten, starting in the 2020-2021 school year. The bill passed the Illinois Senate 39-16 on April 12.

Illinois dropped the compulsory school age from 7 to 6, starting in September 2014. Currently, parents must start their children in school at age 6 and keep them there until age 17. SB 2075 would lower the compulsory age to 5 and require all schools to provide kindergarten classes for 5-year-olds.

In Illinois, mandatory school attendance begins when children reach the compulsory age on or before Sept. 1 each school year. This bill would push that date up to May 31 each school year.

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, one of the bill’s chief co-sponsors, said she wants parents to give their children a better chance at success.

“It’s time for them not to wait until their 6-years-old to start school,” Lightford told the Illinois News Network. “If parents feel that their kids who turn 5 over the summer months, then they have the extra year to make sure their kids are ready.”

But parents are best suited to decide when their children are ready for school, said state Sen. Chuck Weaver, R-Peoria.

“Parents are very concerned about the state taking the decision away from them,” Weaver told INN. “A lot of kids aren’t prepared to go to school at age 5. This makes that mandatory, it takes that [decision] away from parents.”

A Senate committee hearing on SB 2075 drew seven Illinoisans in favor of the bill, while 2,229 filed witness slips opposing it.

Compulsory attendance begins at age 5 in nine states and the District of Columbia, according to a 2017 survey by the Education Commission of the States. The minimum age is 6 in 25 states, 7 in 14 states and 8 in two states.

Illinoisans currently have the option of sending their children as young as 4 to kindergarten and are guaranteed a public education, according to state law. Sending such a young child to school is a choice parents make based on their judgment of their child’s growth, abilities and maturity.

The bill does not contain a fiscal note estimating the cost to schools from mandating they provide kindergarten for all 5-year-olds. It also provides no new funding for adding more students. It’s all too rare for lawmakers to attach money to new school requirements: Illinois passed 145 unfunded mandates on its schools between 1992 and 2014.

Illinois’ current mandatory minimum school age is in line with the bulk of other states. And parents have the option of sending a 4-year-old to school if they judge their child ready, so there is little reason to take away parental choice over their child’s education and replace it with a state mandate. Plus, lawmakers should never pass laws without knowing the cost.

The bill is currently in the Illinois House Rules Committee. It should stay there.

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