Illinois Kindergarten Should Be Parental Choice, Not the Chicago Way

WTTW Lightford Interview

Kindergarten, Not Second Grade, Could Be Starting Point For IL Schools | Chicago Tonight | WTTW

WTTW‘s Michael Lipkin interviewed the Senate Education Committee‘s Vice Chair, Assistant Majority Leader and Chicago Senator Kimberly Lightford. The time was mostly spent covering the revived SB 1307 proposal changing compulsory attendance age to 5 years of age from seven.  We’ve fought this battle before.  Not as homeschoolers, but concerned parents who want parental choice for our communities’ children regarding their education and school readiness. Senator Lightford can’t understand the opposition from homeschoolers, but our awareness of Illinois education laws has protected many non-homeschooling families too. Besides the obviously pre-planned questions, I took away the idea the Chicago Way had a truancy problem, Chicago representatives want the state to be part of the unenforced regulations, and most importantly for Illinois homeschoolers, Senator Lightford is honed in on “tweaking” our homeschooling rights.  

The beginning of the interview was a bit shocking for me.  I listened once, twice, at least three times to the Senate Education Committee’s Vice Chair say the Illinois compulsory attendance age was a surprise to her and many of her legislative colleagues. Senator Lightford has been a lawmaker and “either chair or vice chair of the Senate Education Committee for more than a decade, Lightford has been able to pass meaningful legislation providing specialized curricula in bullying prevention and a universal preschool program for at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds. She also has served as vice chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee.”

Lipkin- Had no idea that it’s the law children don’t have to show up for school until they’re seven years old.  Did that come as a surprise to you? 

Lightford- Totally. I’m  saddened to know after serving in the legislature all these years, that the compulsory age is seven years old and I’m certain that many other legislators were unaware of it as well.  


Lipkin – When you talked to other legislators, what have they told you about was their level of awareness?

Lightford – They’re just blown away. We’ve put so much money and so much time and effort into the early childhood education for the past 10 years, starting in 2006 when we advanced it.  We’re focused on 3 and 4 year olds and had no idea the student wasn’t required to be there until seven years old.


Lipkin- You just said many of your colleagues in the state legislature didn’t know that the law is what it is. Is it your feeling that a lot of parents figure out that they won’t get in trouble if they don’t make sure their kids get to school when they’re younger?

Lightford- Exactly. There’s no requirement, so if their kids don’t arrive,  they’re considered truant, but what does that mean? Absolutely nothing. There isn’t a truant officer knocking on the door saying you have to bring your kid to school because by law, their child can stay home until they’re seven years old.

In this last quote, the claim seems to be the parents are more on the ball than our lawmakers. Especially, the “truant” ones.

The concern seems to be after three and four years are done with Blago’s Preschool for All program, parents will duck their five and six year old kids out of school until they’re seven.  Because they can and the state can’t make them seems to be the premise.  Mr. Lipkin pointed out the tight money issues for state governments.  He didn’t mention Illinois’ dire straits, let alone for universal preschool use. The interviewer also thought it was unfortunate “for people to not have to send the kids ..seems like a huge waste.” But i have this crazy mindset that parents don’t want their children to be ignorant and decide schools and testing might not be the best choice for early learning.  

Senator Lightford seems to have a wish for much control over many areas, including the states of Washington and Pennsylvania.  She lamented: “Unfortunately there are two other states that have 8 year olds [compulsory attendance age] which is really baffling to me.

She also mentioned there is one Illinois school district that really needs to be fixed, as it has no kindergarten. Senator Lightford might want to check into the problem of having a school report card noting the average kindergarten class size in Havana as 22.3, when she points out there is no kindergarten in that public school. (.3 kids might be a problem too.)

When asked what the impact of compulsory attendance age at seven years old is, she replied: 

Their language is a barrier, their math isn’t good.  If  a child arrives at second grade needing to be at third grade level the next year, there is no way on earth they’ll be considered at third grade level next year. They’ll be tested to see where they really are …They could fall back to first  grade or special education just because we’re not requiring them to be there at the start of the day for kindergarten.

So. Actually. Currently. If a child did appear in the school building at second grade, they would be tested and there might be a way on earth (and Illinois) they could be admitted into the age and test result appropriate classroom. It happens all the time when homeschoolers choose to enter public school and are tested to find their placement level.  Most of the time, students aren’t bumped up into test placement appropriate level, but they would not have to be demoted to first grade or special education, as Lightford infers.  Parents don’t want their children humiliated in that manner and most would find a way to satisfy that particular school district’s requirements.  Even without the state’s help.

Senator Lightford noted Chicago has an 18% truancy rate for kindergarten and first graders. She has those numbers because there is already a law on the books if you enroll in a public school and intend to take your child out of that public school – even at five or six years of age – you fill out a form to transfer out.   it’s important to note again this seems to be a Chicago issue she wants resolved with a state statute’s major change. Senator Lightford uses the word “truant” for five and six year olds, but it is a parental choice until seven years of age.  Seems like an overall good plan, because it just seems wrong to call five and six year olds truants.  

The conversation continued to stay, let’s say, interesting.

Lipkin – Say the law changes and the new age becomes 5 years old, what would be the enforcement mechanism then, because a lot of districts, including Chicago, don’t have truant officers anymore.

Lightford – Which is a sad, sad, sad way to be….If you have a law on the books, you should abide by it….

Lipkin – No enforcement mechanism [truant officers], isn’t that a big handicap?

Lightford –  No, I don’t think so…. We have a lot of laws on the books that aren’t enforced.

Lipkin – So you are saying it would create a level of expectation on the part of the parents in terms of getting your child to school even if it doesn’t entail someone knocking on the door getting your child to school.

Lightford- [laughing] Now that’s my next spiel. That’s the trailer bill.

Oh, joy.  After reading this dialogue, you might not be surprised the state of Illinois sends truant officers to check on homeschoolers and they’re not getting enough of that action. It makes the usual (non)sense in our state to be on private schoolers’ backs instead of doing their public school job.

More bad news for Illinois homeschoolers in the next post.  Senator Lightford wants to tweak us.