State law rightly requires children to attend school. But should it tell parents when to enroll them in kindergarten?
Members of the General Assembly are in the midst of a bill-passing frenzy, to the point that it's hard to imagine what they'll do next.
One case in point is pending legislation, which has already passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the House, that would require parents to enroll their children in kindergarten at age 5. It's an issue to some people because, for a variety of reasons, they prefer not to enroll their children in kindergarten until they are 6.
For starters, is this parental option really a serious enough problem to require legislative action to compel them to act otherwise?
A Democratic House member, Rep. Kam Buckner, insists that it is. He contends it's one of the solutions to the achievement gap, the difference in academic performance between low-income children, many of whom are minorities, and their higher-performing middle- and upper-income peers.
The point, apparently, is the sooner, the better when it comes to putting youngsters into a school setting.
That's an arguable point, one that would take serious research to prove. There are many children who already start kindergarten at age 5. Is the achievement gap for children from the at-risk demographic group lower when they start kindergarten at 5 than it is for their better-off classmates who start kindergarten at age 5?
On the other hand, there's no doubt that some 5-year-old children who could enroll in kindergarten have not developed sufficiently to be prepared.
Senate Bill 2075, which would take effect for the 2020-21 school year, would require children to attend kindergarten if they are 5 on or before May 31. It would allow parents of 5-year-old with summer birthdays to choose whether to send them to kindergarten or wait an additional year.
The Legislature's concern is well-intentioned. But intentions are irrelevant to the issue at hand.
It's always concerning when the state adopts the role of in loco parentis to mandate the decisions of parents concerning the education of their children, particularly those of tender years.
In that respect, the need for action must be obvious, a standard that is lacking on this issue.
-- The (Champaign) News-Gazette