The Louisiana Legislature passed a bill Wednesday that will, with some exceptions, mandate that in 2022, the state’s 5-year-olds attend kindergarten. Senate Bill 10, introduced by Sen. Cleo Fields (D-Baton Rouge) has been sent to the desk of Gov. John Bel Edwards for his signature.
According to the Education Commission of the United States, 19 states and the District of Columbia, require kindergarten. That list includes two of Louisiana’s immediate neighbors — Texas and Mississippi. Alabama, Florida and Georgia also mandate kindergarten for 5-year-olds.
Beginning in 2022, students who turn 5 by Sept. 30 are expected to enroll. Exceptions to the mandate will be made for children who are still 4 on the first day of school, children who are enrolled in a pre-kindergarten program. Parents uncertain about their 5-year-old’s readiness for a school environment can home school them.
The Louisiana House voted 70-32 Wednesday in favor of SB10 after Fields successfully fought back against an amendment from Rep. Thomas Pressly (R-Shreveport) that would have released from the mandate children who don’t turn 5 before March 30. Pressly said that would give parents “more flexibility.” But Fields, speaking from the floor of the Senate Wednesday, said Presley’s proposed change would have “locked out half the kids it intended to help.”
Rep. Jason Hughes (D-New Orleans), who brought Senate Bill 10 to the House on behalf of Fields last week, said then that the bill is “good for our children and good for our state.”
“We already mandate that children have to attend first grade. They have no choice,” Hughes said. “And unfortunately, many of our children are entering first grade not prepared.” Hughes said about 160,000 students in grades K-5 in Louisiana cannot read. “When you take into account 6th through 12th grade (students)… the results are even more disappointing.”
It’s not known what percentage of the state’s 5-year-olds are not being sent to kindergarten and starting their formal education in first grade. According to a fiscal note attached to the legislation, “The number of students who currently enter first grade without attending Kindergarten is indeterminable. Not all districts track these students, and district records may not distinguish those who attended Kindergarten outside the parish or through a nonpublic school.”