Law lowers required age for students to attend school

News-DemocratAugust 26, 2013 

A new Illinois law lowering the required age that students must attend school will not have a noticeable effect on local districts, according to school officials.

"I don't see any impact at all for districts in our area," said Matt Stines, superintendent of Grant School District 110 in Fairview Heights. "We are getting the kids at 3 and 4 years old."

District 110 has a half-day prekindergarten program and full-day kindergarten.

The law, which takes effect in the 2014-15 school year, lowers the compulsory age from 7 to 6, a move state officials said puts Illinois in line with about half of U.S. states. Gov. Pat Quinn signed the legislation Sunday.

"It's all about getting an early start on education," Quinn said at an elementary school on Chicago's West Side.

Quinn and one of the bill's sponsors, Chicago Democrat Rep. LaShawn Ford, credited the Chicago Tribune's series last year on truancy and absenteeism as a trigger for the bill. Earlier this year, state lawmakers created a task force to examine the issue.

Parents of school-aged children who are frequently absent from school can face truancy charges. Although a school district might begin offering classes for children younger than 7, the district cannot compel parents to send those children to school if the compulsory age is 7.

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly supports the new law. "It has the potential to expand the enforcement of truancy laws to parents with younger children at ages when intervention could possibly be more effective," Kelly said.

Like Stines, Belleville School District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said he doesn't envision the new law having any impact on District 118.

"It won't be a big impact for us," he said. "We are actually out encouraging people to sign up their youngsters when they turn 5 -- the sooner, the better."

District 118 also has early childhood programs.

According to the new law, any student turning 6 years old on or before Sept. 1 must be enrolled to attend school for that school year.

Initially, backers had wanted to lower the age to 5, as the District of Columbia does, but that idea was later scrapped.

Opponents, including Republicans, had questioned the cost of the change. State officials have estimated that lowering the age would cost roughly $28 million.

Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, said Sunday that the overall societal benefits of educating children outweighed the costs.

The law will go into effect on July 1, 2014.

The bill is SB1307.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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