Is kindergarten mandatory in Kansas?

Recently, a number of people have across this site by using the search terms “Is kindergarten mandatory in Kansas?”, or some variation thereof.

The short answer: No, and children are not required to attend school until age 7.

Now for the longer answer

According to the Education Commission of the States, kindergarten attendance in Kansas is “not mandatory.” I’m not sure how current their information is; the link bears a 2010 copyright, but may contain information from earlier years.

In February 2007, Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, and Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita proposed lowering the mandatory school-entrance age from 7 to 6, and requiring at least half-day attendance at kindergarten.

Later in August, the Wichita Eagle supported the implementation of mandatory kindergarten. It justified that by citing “academic success.” As in, the schools that we have now aren’t succeeding according to our definitions, so let’s give them even more time in a child’s life, regardless of parental wishes. The Eagle would make an exception for religious purposes, at least for Mennonites. (What about Baptists, Catholics, agnostics or atheists?)

The effort to institute mandatory kindergarten was taken up again in  2008, with the Kansas Senate overwhelmingly passing a bill in March 2009. (Interestingly, a teacher left a comment on my blog post on the subject, saying that in her experience, “our half day test scores and behavior of the children far exceed the full day programs.”)

According to Kansas Statute 72-1107, a child is eligible to attend school if on or before August 31 of a  school year, he is 6 years old. That doesn’t, however, mean that he must attend. When the statute specifically addresses kindergarten, it says that a child is eligible if he is 5 years old on or before August 31.

According to Kansas Statute 72-77, compulsory attendance doesn’t kick in until the child reaches age 7. (Actually, compulsory attendance does kick in earlier in one case: If your child enrolls at age 5 or 6, he has to regularly show up to class.)

During this year’s session, SB 539 would have upped state funding for kindergarten from a half-time enrollment to a full-time one. According to the Kansas Division of Budget, that would require an extra $72 million in state general funding per year (PDF letter). I believe that the fiscal crisis of the state–rather than questions about the wisdom of expanding the scope of the school system–has stopped the move towards mandatory, all-day kindergarten.

A look at all states

In its review, the ECS concludes that for most states, kindergarten is mandatory in 12 states, though that means a lot of different things:

Children in Arkansas, Delaware, Louisiana, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, and West Virginia who don’t attend kindergarten must pass a first-grade qualification test before being enrolled in first grade.

Parents in Connecticut and Oklahoma may opt out, but must notify the school district in which they live. Parents in Virginia may do the same, but only if the child has not reached the age of 6 on or before September 30.

Tennessee says that “No child shall be eligible to enter 1st grade. . .without having attended an approved kindergarten program.”

Maryland has the most intrusive regulations, requiring all children who don’t attend kindergarten be enrolled in state-qualified institutional care or receiving instruction at home as specified by state statute.

New Mexico makes the question the subject of parents and the district superintendent, suggesting that the district can require attendance.

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