BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – After a long debate through the legislative session, Governor John Bel Edwards has officially signed mandatory kindergarten into law.
Senator Cleo Fields is gathered educators and city leaders at Capitol Elementary School to celebrate the legislation. Senator Fields’ bill was met with quite a lot of opposition from parents around the state.
Louisiana joins 19 other states making kindergarten mandatory. It brings down the compulsory education age from seven to five, which Senator Fields said is too late to try and help kids get in school.
“We started out the right way,” Sen. Fields said. “In January, we brought all the stakeholders together and we talked to them about how important it was to educate kids at an early stage.”
Families will have the option of public and private school as well as homeschool if parents don’t want to send them to brick and mortar facilities. The Senator cites research that 90% of brain development happens before age five. He wants to make sure kids are learning sooner to better prepare them for elementary school.
“The research shows that if a kid is not reading on grade level by grade three they will be behind for the rest of their years in learning,” said Dr. Janet Pope, the Executive Director of Louisiana School Board Association. “That’s why it is very important that we get our kids early.”
About 3,000 kids were opting out of kindergarten each year across the state. Currently it is required that all schools provide kindergarten so it is not believed new teachers will have to be hired on to handle the extra students.
“We lost a lot of students from the pandemic and we lost a lot of students to the two hurricanes,” Sen. Fields said. “We’re going to take it one step at a time so we’re not of the opinion that we’re going to have to hire additional teachers immediately.”
Senator Fields hopes to return to the legislature next year and focus on pre-K education access and make sure Louisiana is making early education a priority.
The mandatory kindergarten does not go into effect until the 2022-2023 school year but if a student turns five by Sept. 30, 2021 they are encouraged to enroll in the public, private, or homeschool kindergarten this year.