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Lawmakers Debate Lowering Mandatory School Age From 7 To 6

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SPRINGFIELD (CBS) – The Illinois Senate has passed a measure that would require parents to send their kids to school before their 7th birthday, in a vote that broke down along party lines.

Last week, the Senate voted 37-19 to approve legislation reducing the compulsory age of school attendance from 7 to 6 years old.

State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) said “this initiative is just to make sure that parents are put on alert that it’s best for their child to be in school for kindergarten by the age of 6, opposed to the age of 7.”

Lightford said all of the state’s school districts but one offer kindergarten.

“I believe (schools) will be pleased to receive children earlier so that they can begin learning,” she added.

Senate Republicans opposed the plan, calling it government overreach, and an unfunded mandate.

State Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) also questioned whether it would genuinely help kids whose parents who now don’t send them to school until after they’re 7 years old.

“You can’t equate a government mandate with a caring parent, and that’s what you’re trying to do here,” Righter said. “You’re saying, ‘We’re going to resolve the truancy issue, we’re going to make education better, we’re going to make the parents better,’ by saying ‘You’ve got to send your kid to school earlier.’”

Other Republicans pointed out Lightford had no numbers to predict the impact on attendance or costs if her bill becomes law.

“We’re unsure of how many kids this will add to the system, and we don’t know what the financial impact will be. Do you think it’s a good idea to be proposing this legislation when we don’t have any idea about the most important figures and numbers?” Sen. Dan Duffy (R-Lake Barrington) asked Lightford during the floor debate.

Lightford shot back, “Do you think it’s a good idea for kids to stay home until they’re age 7, and then they start kindergarten?”

“I appreciate you answering a question with a question, but this is not my bill. If it was, I would make sure that I knew how many kids were going to be added to our school system, and how much it costs,” Duffy said.

Illinois is one of 16 states in which the compulsory age is older than 6.

The measure has been sent to the Illinois House, where the Elementary & Secondary Education Committee endorsed the plan and sent it to the full House for debate.