A bill filed this week in the North Carolina legislature proposes to lower the compulsory age of attendance from 7 years old to 6 years old.
House Bill 136 was filed on February 20th and has already passed its first reading in the house. The bill has been referred to the Committee on K-12 Education. The bill would take effect for the 2017-18 school year if passed.
Currently, parents in North Carolina have the option of starting their children in Kindergarten as early as 5 years old, but the flexibility to keep their child out until the age of 7 years old.
Parents American Lens spoke to had differing opinions on the change. Overall concerns about the proposed compulsory attendance age change included the loss of flexibility for parents in deciding if their child is ready to attend school yet and the impact this would have on classroom size, as well as the related cost for districts to carry out the change.
One parent from Cary, who wished not to be identified, said that this would, “negatively impact their special needs child” who needs more time before entering the public school system.
American Lens reached out to main the sponsors of HB 136 for comment.
Rep. Donny Lambeth (R-75) said that, “Evidence is very clear that the earlier children are helped to prepare for school the better they will do and have a better success rate to achieve academically.”
“Research shows that children who are in a structured learning environment are at a better chance of succeeding academically. And in NC we put a lot of pressure on kids and teacher for results at grade three,” said Rep. Lambeth. “So I introduced this Bill to get children engaged earlier and for them to have a better chance academically.”
Dr. Terry Stoops, Director of Education Policy at the John Locke Foundation disagrees.
“There is no consistent empirical evidence that lowering the compulsory attendance age to a certain level will produce sustainable gains in academic achievement,” said Dr. Stoops.
Dr. Stoops added that, “If there were, all states would have set their lower age limit to that “sweet spot” years ago. Instead, compulsory attendance parameters vary across states.”
Lambeth went on to cite the compulsory attendance ages in other states. “31 states now have age 6 or 5 as the Our border states of Va and SC age is 5. Tennessee, Texas, Alabama for example at 6,” said Lambeth.
When asked about the impact on class size and possible costs incurred by the districts, Rep. Lambeth stated that the, “cost is nominal” and according to fiscal research, would have ‘little impact’ on class size.
Mississippi currently has a similar bill to drop the compulsory age from 6 years old to 5 years old. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, around 14 states, including North Carolina, have a compulsory attendance age of 7 years old.
The bill does not mention homeschooling, but a possible consequence may be homeschoolers being forced to start earlier as well.
“Well, that is what I was wondering? Would the homeschool law have to he changed?” asked homeschooling parent Angie Cutlip. “Right now you only test at 7 years old and up, but I have many parents that want testing earlier just so I can help them with curriculum choices.”
“Politically, one wonders why Republican legislators would propose a change that is guaranteed to aggravate home school families, who typically do not want the government to compel them to begin formal education earlier than currently required,” said Dr. Stoops.