Thursday, May 30, 2013

Quinn to sign bill lowering required school enrollment age

By Meredith Colias

Children will soon be required to start school earlier under a bill that passed the Illinois Senate today.

Senate Bill 1307 would push the required starting age for children one year earlier. Currently, children must start school in Illinois by age 7. Starting in the 2014-2015 school year, they would be required to enroll by age 6. A spokesman for Gov. Pat Quinn said he would sign the bill, calling it “investment in their future” for schoolchildren.

Parents would have the choice to enroll their children in public school, parochial school or home school. Chicago Democrat Sen. Kimberly Lightford sponsored the bill and said starting children earlier would give them a better chance to excel in school. “We value early childhood education in this state. The earlier they learn,” the better chance they have to succeed later in life, she said. Lightford said the change was not meant to be a one size fits all solution for children. If incoming students were more advanced than the kindergarten level, they could be allowed to start first grade by age 6.

Okawville Republican Rep. David Luechtefeld said the state should not restrict parents’ ability to decide when it is best to start their kids in school. As a former educator, he said he often advised parents to hold their children back if they thought they did not have the maturity yet to spend the day in school. “Holding a kid back is not all bad,” he said. Early childhood education advocates for lower-income children cite the benefits of enrolling them earlier in school. Parents are their children's first teachers and can lay the groundwork for their child's academic success well before their child gets to school. Many lower-income parents work long hours and may lack the resources to prepare their kids properly for school. “I understand that, I really do,” Luechtefeld said. “That is a concern. It's looking at it from a different perspective.” He said good parents should be able to use their good judgment. “I just want to give parents that opportunity,” he said.

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