Prioritizing Education, Louisiana Legislature Passes Bill to Make Kindergarten Mandatory

Ready for 2013″ by Editor B is licensed under CC BY 2.0

On Wednesday, Louisiana lawmakers voted to make kindergarten mandatory in Louisiana for all five-year-olds, passing Senate Bill 10. The bill sailed through the Senate with a unanimous vote of 38-0, while the House of Representatives supported it with a vote of 70-32, sending it to the governor’s desk. Governor John Bel Edwards is in favor of the bill and will sign it into law. 

Mandatory kindergarten legislation was rejected by the Louisiana Legislature in 2012, 2008, and 2005. The overwhelming support for it now shows a turnaround in the Legislature’s opinion, revealing its new emphasis on prioritizing education. After all, Louisiana public schools are currently ranked 50th in the country

Senator Cleo Fields, the author of the bill, called the legislation “one of the most important bills I have this session.”

“Investing in early childhood education makes a big difference for the state of Louisiana. There’s nothing more important we can do for kids,” Fields said during a House budget review of the bill. “When you invest in kids early in life, they tend to do better.”

The bill’s supporters argue that mandatory kindergarten will keep children from falling behind, noting that studies show 90% of brain development happens between birth and the age of 5. 

19 other states in the country have mandatory kindergarten, and four of those states in the south, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas, have higher literacy rates than Louisiana. In fact, barely half of Louisiana’s students in K-3 are reading on grade level today. 

Around 160,000 students in grades K-5 in Louisiana cannot read. “When you take into account 6th through 12th grade (students)… the results are even more disappointing.” Representative Jason Hughes, who brought SB10 to the House for Senator Fields commented.

“This bill has the backing of all the education institutions in this state,” Senator Ed Price, who served on the school board for 27 years, said. Backers include the Louisiana School Boards Association, Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, Louisiana Public Charter Schools Association, Child Care Association of Louisiana, Louisiana Association of Educators, Louisiana Federation of Teachers, and the Council for a Better Louisiana.

The legislation was opposed by the Louisiana Family Forum, which calls itself an advocate for traditional family values. Group officials said that the issue of whether children should attend kindergarten is for parents to decide. 

Opponents of the bill, who were largely conservative lawmakers, argued that parents should be allowed to make decisions about their children’s education. “How do we know that being with family is not more important than being in school?” Representative Raymond Crews said during committee debate. “To me, this looks like we’re trying to parent our children through schools.”

Notably, though, the bill has provisions that allow families to homeschool their children for kindergarten, they just have to report that information to the state Department of Education.

Republican representative Danny McCormick proposed a failed amendment to the bill “that does away with the penalties” because he “doesn’t think parents ought to be imprisoned or have their children taken away from them or go to counseling if they don’t abide by this.”

Representative Hughes said McCormick’s amendment was “a solution in search of a problem” and “we are not currently putting parents or children in prison.” 

It’s estimated that the bill will add up to 2,800 students to kindergarten rolls when the mandate starts. Prior to this bill, Louisiana children were only required to attend school between the ages of 7 and 18, unless they graduated early from high school. 

The bill will be effective starting with the 2022-2023 school year. Five-year-olds will have until September 30 to attend kindergarten every year. If a child is four years old on the first day of school, or if the child is enrolled in a pre-kindergarten program, parents can postpone kindergarten enrollment. 

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