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Lightford Wants Kindergarten Entry Age Dropped To 5

Illinois Legislative Black Caucus
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford says lowering kindergarten entrance age is a part of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus' agenda.

Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford says she plans to reintroduce legislation that would lower the Illinois' compulsory kindergarten starting age from 6 years old to 5. 

Lightford, a Maywood Democrat, successfully pushed to lower the start for kindergarten from the age of 7 years old to 6, which took effect in the 2014-15 school year. Last year, the state Senate passed legislation to drop the compulsory age further, but the measure failed to get out of the House.

“Optional kindergarten enrollment, it results in a lack of equitable education access for all of Illinois students, and particularly Bblack students, who are not provided sufficient supports and opportunities earlier in their educational career,” Lightford said.  

Currently, kindergarten attendance is not mandatory, but it would become so if Lightford’s legislation would become law.

Some parent groups objected to the legislation in 2019, saying the starting date age for kindergarteners should be a matter of choice.

The Illinois State Board of Education supports proposals to lower the compulsory age for starting kindergarten from 6  years old to 5, an administrators testified at a recent state Senate hearing.

Brenda Dixon, chief research and evaluation officer for ISBE, said optional kindergarten enrollment means that some children who wait longer struggle.

“There is no catchup time built into our school calendar for children who enter the public school system underprepared,’’ she said. “Once established, gaps in school readiness skills are difficult and costly to remedy leading to pronounced gaps in achievement.

“We firmly believe that lowering the compulsory school age to 5 will ensure that all children have a better opportunity to receive a strong foundation of literacy and reading skills that will set them up for success in all aspects of their lives,” she said.

Kindergarten enrollment would grow by 3,000 students next fall if the compulsory age was dropped, Dixon said.

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.
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