By Ted O’Neil | The Center Square
A bill signed this week by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards will require school students to attend kindergarten as the first step in their K-12 education.
Senate Bill 10, which was introduced in February, passed the state Senate unanimously, 38-0, and was approved by the state House of Representatives, 70-32. It was sponsored by Sen. Cleo Fields, a Baton Rouge Democrat and chair of the Senate Education Committee. The bill had bipartisan support with 51 co-sponsors between the Senate and House.
The law goes into effect for the 2022-23 school year, and supporters say it will help students succeed throughout their academic careers by ensuring they are learning at an early age.
“This bill was so important because early childhood education matters,” Fields said at a news conference. “And it is so important that parents put their kids in school early.”
The law requires children who are 5 years old by Sept. 30 to attend kindergarten, Parents of children who are age 4 on the first day of school can decide to wait and enroll them the following year.
Children who are still 4 when the school year starts, however, would be required to pass what the bill calls an “academic readiness screening” in order to enroll in kindergarten. The same screening will be required for students starting first grade who moved to Louisiana from another state.
Louisiana is the 20th state to make kindergarten mandatory.
Parents also have the option of enrolling their child in a pre-kindergarten class, and families that home school are exempt from the mandatory attendance requirement.
The bill had the backing of the Louisiana School Boards Association.
“We are always advocating for our students to get an education as early as possible and the research shows the sooner they get in school the more prepared they will be,” Janet Pope, the group’s executive director, said at the press conference held by Fields. “The research shows that if a child is not reading at grade level by third grade, they will be behind for the rest of their years in learning.”
Pope noted that that research shows 90% of a child’s brain development occurs between birth and age 5.
The Louisiana Department of Education says about 3,000 students across the state who are eligible do not attend kindergarten each year.
Schools are already required to offer kindergarten, so it is not believed that any new classrooms will need to be built or new teachers hired to accommodate the new students.