The Louisiana Legislature agreed Wednesday to make kindergarten mandatory for children statewide.
Making the change was one of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ legislative priorities. A wide range of business and education groups also supported it. Estimates of the cost of educating additional kindergarten students have been as high as $12 million, which Edwards said easily could be absorbed within the $3.9 billion education funding formula.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have mandatory kindergarten. Supporters hope the mandate will keep children from falling behind in a state where only about half of students in grades K-3 are reading at grade level.
“Investing in early childhood education just makes good business sense,” said Rep. Jason Hughes, a New Orleans Democrat.
Critics, mostly conservative House Republicans, said making kindergarten mandatory infringes on parents’ right to make that decision. Some said additional time with family may be more valuable than more school time.
Under Senate Bill 10, homeschooling and private school attendance would qualify under the new mandate, which generally would apply to children who turn 5 years old on or before Sept. 30 prior to the 2022-2023 school year. Parents would have the option to delay kindergarten by a year if their child is 4 years old on the first day of school or is enrolled in a prekindergarten program.
The final votes were 38-0 in the Senate and 70-34 in the House of Representatives.
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