Pre-K Being Used to Push for More Curtailment of Family Options

In our report on early childhood education (PDF), we proposed that some legislators would use the expanded use of taxpayer-funded pre-K programs as a reason to lower the age at which kindergarten is mandatory. It may have seemed a bit alarmist at the time, but the prediction was correct.

The Parsons Sun (Senator asks state to drop mandatory school age, August 14) and Lawrence Journal World ( State lawmakers advocate mandatory kindergarten, August 14) offer the details.

From the Sun:

” A Topeka senator asked fellow lawmakers Monday to consider mandating kindergarten attendance and lowering the required age to start public school from 7 to 6.

Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, authored the proposal after researching the issue and hearing from a local teacher who struggled to educate kindergarteners who were enrolled yet frequently truant.

The teacher had no legal remedy to get parents to bring them to school regularly because Kansas doesn’t require attendance until first grade.

Such truants are often children who sorely need a structured, educational environment, Kelly said. The state invests “incredible amounts of money” in kindergarten and should assure that all enrolled children get to benefit.

“I don’t think the numbers who don’t attend are very large,” she told the Legislative Educational Planning Committee.

Currently 14 states require kindergarten attendance.”

Instead of forcing everyone into the same solution, perhaps what ought to be done is make sure that children who are enrolled in kindergarten are actually attending. The problem is truancy, not the fact that not all parents choose to enroll their students.

The article further states that there might be a religious exemption. Fine, but not every parent who opts out of kindergarten has a religious motivation–nor should one be required. Additionally, restricting the exemption to religion might put the state into the sticky business of deciding what’s a “sincerely held” religious belief.

From the Journal:

“It makes little sense to me to spend money and time on school readiness skills for 3- to 5-year-olds and leave a loophole in our laws that allows those same children to take a sabbatical until they are 7,” said state Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka.”

Like we said ….

“Kindergarten is not mandatory in Kansas, and children are required to attend school no later than age 7. Senate Bill 207 would require children attend kindergarten, and set 6 as the mandatory attendance age.”

Thus we have a double expansion of official rules: mandatory attendance, and mandatory attendance at an earlier age–regardless of the desire of the parents.

As is sometimes the case, the fact that some people abuse discretion is used as an excuse to deny it to everyone:

During a meeting Monday of the Legislative Educational Planning Committee, opposition came from the Amish Mennonite community of Reno County.

David Miller, of Partridge, said Amish children benefit from staying at home an extra year within close-knit families, and are well prepared for school.

State Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, asked Miller: “How do you respond if parents … don’t prepare their child for school?”

“That sort of thing just doesn’t exist in our community,” Miller said.

Vratil responded, “But it does exist outside your community.”

Understandably, people in the education establishment are nervous these days. NCLB is raising expectations, and threatens changes to the way of doing business of schools don’t meet targets.

But the schools should serve families; families shouldn’t have to change to accommodate the interests of their employees.

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