Ed. leaders call for lower compulsory attendance age

Ed. leaders call for lower compulsory attendance age

(Ind.) Indiana legislators could make another attempt in the coming session to lower the age at which a child must be enrolled in school after state education officials signaled that they would support such a bill.

State Superintendent Jennifer McCormick said during a panel on public education at the end of August that she wants lawmakers to lower the age of compulsory attendance to six so that more students attend kindergarten early, and are better prepared for first grade. She noted that her office would work with legislators to make it happen.

“Beginning a child's education at an early age is important to their success in school and beyond,” McCormick said in a follow-up statement. “As we move toward the 2018 legislative session we will roll out an agenda that discusses this more in-depth, and ways in which we can better prepare children for their future.”

With expanding state-funded pre-K and transitional kindergarten options available throughout the country for working families, many children are already beginning their schooling prior to their state’s age cutoff for compulsory attendance. But there are still children who do not enroll early for a wide range of reasons. Working parents may opt to keep their child at a full-day child care center if their local district only provides half-day kindergarten, for instance, while others may hold off on enrolling children in kindergarten with the idea that they will have an advantage over their peers, whether academically, socially or athletically if they start when they’re older.

According to recent research, up to 5.5 percent of parents delay their child’s entry into kindergarten in the United States, but there is still debate over whether or not doing so does benefit students. Last month, researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Affairs released a report which concluded that children who start kindergarten later have an increased likelihood of enrolling in college, earning a degree and graduating from a competitive institution. But numerous other studies over the last couple decades suggest that children are more successful the start sooner they start.

States have been making an effort to help families enroll their children at the most developmentally appropriate time. In California for example, where the cutoff date was once in December, some children were entering kindergarten when they were still 4 years old. Lawmakers moved to gradually adjust the cutoff to September so that students would be at least a few months older, and implemented a state-funded transitional kindergarten program so that teachers could focus more specifically on the needs of younger learners and parents could still re-enter the workforce.

There was also a fiscal impetus for moving the kindergarten start date. Analysis of the California plan showed the state would have saved $700 million annually by increasing the age a student must be to enroll in kindergarten if lawmakers hadn’t also funded transitional kindergarten. It is likely that, by lowering the age a student must enroll, Indiana would need to spend more to staff additional classrooms.

Lawmakers in Indiana attempted in 2015 to lower the compulsory age to 5 and make kindergarten mandatory. Only eight states currently have a compulsory age of 5, according to the Education Commission of the States. Most states, 26, require children to be enrolled in school by age 6, and Indiana is one of 14 states where the compulsory attendance age is 7. Only Pennsylvania and Washington set the cutoff higher at 8 years old.

At the time, a fiscal analysis of Indiana’s SB 301 estimated that more than 900 students had not enrolled in kindergarten. The proposed changes to the state’s compulsory attendance law were expected to increase the state education costs by up to $4.9 million.

A spokesperson for McCormick told local Indiana media outlets after the education panel that the state Department of Education did not want to go into further detail, but that next steps before potentially drafting a new law include finding out how many students would be affected by a change in the compulsory age of attendance.