Kindergarten would be mandatory in Louisiana under legislation that won approval Wednesday on a 34-1 vote in the Senate.

"I submit to you that this bill makes sense," said Senate Education Committee Chairman Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge and sponsor of the proposal.

The measure, Senate Bill 10, next faces action in the state House.

The vote Wednesday is a significant turnaround for an idea that was rejected by the Legislature in 2012, 2008 and 2005.

The legislation would require that children who turn 5 years old by Sept. 30 attend kindergarten starting with the 2022-23 school year.

Under current rules, school districts have to offer kindergarten but attendance is not mandatory.

Children are required to attend school starting at the age of 7.

Fields said about 2,800 children do not take part in kindergarten statewide.

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More than 54,000 children were enrolled in 2020, according to the state Department of Education.

Fields said 19 states and the District of Columbia require kindergarten.

The legislation would allow children to comply with the proposed law through home schooling.

Sen. Ed Price, D-Gonzales, who served on the school board for 27 years, said it is imperative that instruction begins at an early age.

"This bill has the backing of all the education institutions in this state," Price said. 

Backers include the Louisiana School Boards Association, Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, Louisiana Public Charter Schools Association, Child Care Association of Louisiana, Louisiana Association of Educators, Louisiana Federation of Teachers and the Council for a Better Louisiana.

The lone "no" vote was cast by Sen. Heather Cloud, R-Turkey Creek.

The measure was opposed in committee by the Louisiana Family Forum, which calls itself an advocate for traditional family values.

Officials of the group said last month whether children attend kindergarten is an issue for parents to decide.

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