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9/5/2017 7:37:00 PM
Legislature may consider if it is time to lower Indiana's compulsory school age?

Sue Loughlin, Tribune-Star

Lowering Indiana’s compulsory school age may be an issue tackled in the next legislative session.

Currently, under Indiana law, students must attend school at age 7. StateImpact Indiana is reporting that state superintendent of public instruction Jennifer McCormick wants to lower the compulsory school age to 6.

Indiana is one of 16 states with a compulsory school age of 7 or older. When contacted by the Tribune-Star, the Indiana Department of Education did not want to go into further detail, said Adam Baker, the department press secretary.

“Beginning a child’s education at an early age is important to their success in school and beyond. As we move toward the 2018 legislative session, we will roll out an agenda that discusses this more in-depth, and ways in which we can better prepare children for their future,” Baker said in an email.

Christi Fenton, Vigo County schools’ director of elementary education, said the idea is a sound one.

“We would be supportive of the recommendation to change the compulsory school age to 6,” Fenton said. “We have been fortunate in our community that families value early childhood, evidenced by the fact that there are very few students in the VCSC that do not attend kindergarten, even though it is not currently mandatory.

“It was only recently that kindergarten was funded by the state with the full day funding formula. This has allowed our 5-year-olds an opportunity to quality educational programs. Vigo County was selected as an On My Way Pre-K community by the state in order to provide quality daycare to 4-year-olds. Any support that can be given to our littlest learners is a positive step.”

Terry McDaniel, Indiana State University assistant professor of educational leadership, views lowering the age for compulsory attendance as a positive move.

“I think a lot of schools would appreciate that,” McDaniel said. “A lot of schools now are trying to get kids in as early as possible” because so many kids from low socioeconomic backgrounds would benefit, he said.

He believes the age 7 compulsory age of attendance is “kind of silly,” because students typically are age 6 when they start first grade, anyway. Many educators would like to see mandatory kindergarten and compulsory school attendance at age 5, he said.

McDaniel said “almost all kids go to kindergarten anymore. If they don’t, they’re behind in first grade. Kindergarten is more academic than it was 20 years ago.” If children don’t attend kindergarten, “They’ll be behind their peers and playing catch-up” in first grade.

Because most children are attending kindergarten, the main benefit of a change in law would be in cases where parents might keep children out of school until age 7, at which point they would be behind, he said.

“”It just makes sense to make it age 6,” McDaniel said.

Vigo County School Corp. Superintendent Danny Tanoos said, “I’ve always been an advocate for getting kids into a public school at an early age, whether it be a pre-K or kindergarten program.”

He doesn’t support mandatory pre-K for children, but believes it’s important to create more opportunities for children to participate in pre-K.

He does support lowering the age for compulsory school attendance. “The earlier students get into school, the more they will learn and the more success they will have in school and later in life,” Tanoos said.

According to the StateImpact article, “Indiana’s Republican majorities have not favored reducing the compulsory age or making kindergarten mandatory. Legislative leaders say that’s in part because nearly all young children already attend some type of formal schooling before they turn 7.”

“But McCormick “says available data on who attends kindergarten is shaky at best,” according to the article. She said lowering the compulsory school age from seven to six would benefit the same at-risk children the state wants to help with its limited On My Way Pre-K program.

StateImpact Indiana is a collaboration of WFIU and Indiana Public Broadcasting stations.

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