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Senate Education Committee Chairman Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, is the sponsor of a bill that would make kindergarten mandatory.  

After off and on efforts for years, the Louisiana Legislature gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that would make kindergarten mandatory.

The proposal, Senate Bill 10, passed the Senate 38-0 and was endorsed by the House a few hours later 70-32.

Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to sign the legislation.

Both chambers had approved slightly different versions of the proposal earlier.

A House-Senate negotiating committee hammered out the lone disagreement between the two chambers – how old children should be when they are required to attend kindergarten.

The Senate voted to require children who turn five by Sept. 30 to enroll. The House changed that to six month earlier, March 31 of the calendar year when school starts, in part to address concerns that the bill was forcing children into kindergarten prematurely.

The final version says children who turn five by Sept. 30 would be required to attend kindergarten unless they are four on the first day of school or are enrolled in a pre-kindergarten program.

Doing so, backers said, gives the families of four-year-olds more flexibility but also brings into the fold most of the children the legislation is aimed at.

"We think we addressed all of the concerns," said Rep. Jason Hughes, D-New Orleans, House sponsor of the measure.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, is the primary sponsor.

The new requirement would take effect for the 2022-23 school year.

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Backers said the change is long overdue, especially with the large number of children who are ill-prepared when they begin kindergarten and the fact that barely half of students in first, second and third grades are reading on grade level.

The measure was opposed by the Louisiana Family Forum, whose officials said the decision on when children begin school should be left to parents.  Critics said the bill lowers the mandatory school age from seven to five.

Children are now required to attend school from 7-18 years of age unless they graduate from high school early.

State officials have said about 53,000 children attend kindergarten.

The new rules would require about 2,800 more to enroll either in a public or private school or through home schooling.

Current state law requires all 69 school districts to offer kindergarten but attendance is not mandatory.

A total of 19 states and the District of Columbia require students to attend kindergarten, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Voting for mandatory kindergarten for 5 year olds (71): Speaker Schexnayder, Reps Adams, Bacala, Bishop, Bourriaque, Brass, Brown, Bryant, Carpenter, Carrier, G. Carter, R. Carter, W. Carter, Cormier, Coussan, Cox, Davis, Deshotel, DuBuisson, Duplessis, Echols, Edmonston, Fontenot, Freeman, Freiberg, Gaines, Glover, Green, Hilferty, Hughes, Huval, Illg, James, Jefferson, Jenkins, T. Johnson, Jones, Jordan, Kerner, LaCombe, Landry, Larvadain, Lyons, Mack, Magee, Marcelle, Marino, McKnight, McMahen, D. Miller, G. Miller, Mincey, Moore, Muscarello, Newell, R. Owen, Phelps, Pierre, Pressly, Selders, St. Blanc, Stagni, Stefanski, Thomas, Thompson, Turner, Villio, Wheat, White, Willard and Zeringue.

Voting against SB10 (33): Reps Amedee, Bagley, Butler, Crews, DeVillier, Edmonds, Emerson, Farnum, Firment, Frieman, Gadberry, Garofalo, Geymann, Goudeau, Harris, Hodges, Hollis, Horton, Ivey, M. Johnson, McCormick, McFarland, Miguez, Nelson, Orgeron, C. Owen, Riser, Romero, Schamerhorn, Schlegel, Seabaugh, Tarver and Wright.

Not Voting (1): Rep Beaullieu.

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Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.