SPRINGFIELD – When JB Pritzker campaigned on "free preschool," listeners might have gotten a nice warm "for the children" feeling, but little did the comment register that the "free preschool" he was promising would add more weight to already heavy-burdened taxpayers. And it would require moms and dads to push their toddlers into formal school settings – even those parents that choose to provide secure settings for their little ones at home.
But that's exactly what appears is on the agenda for the new governor and his like-minded lawmakers in the Illinois General Assembly.
After decades of respecting parents and letting them decide when their children are mature enough to be in formal classroom settings around age seven, Illinois moved the compulsory attendance age down to six years old a few years ago. Little notice was given to the adjustment – but something changed in the local schools. Children that were enrolled voluntarily before age six now are required to register by their sixth birthday. Otherwise, truancy laws kick in, and parents need to defend their decisions not to enroll their children.
Little boys are often in need of more playtime and considered behavioral challenges before age seven, so it wasn't unusual to delay boys from being forced to sit for long periods of time and deal with pent up energies. Times changed, though, and early childhood "experts" began saying all that idea was old wives' tales, that especially active boys were better off sedated after being diagnosed with ADD challenges.
Thus, the state's compulsory age is being lowered once again in Illinois. That means more teachers, teachers' aides and more cost for taxpayers. Because if the state requires a child to attend school, the state must offer free public education for that child.
This week, an Illinois senator let the cat out of the bag when he said this lowering to five years is the Democrats' incremental approach to getting compulsory age down to age three.
Three years old – when toddlers are just being comfortably potty-trained (some still aren't) – and when they'll be required to spend the day with age peers and teachers – not their parents. The sooner the better, so stay at home moms can get out of the house and get jobs that contribute to the tax base.
Next week, the Illinois Senate is likely to vote on SB2075 – sponsored by Sen. Kimberly A. Lightford - Iris Y. Martinez and Omar Aquino. The bill easily passed the Senate Education Committee this week, despite over 2000 opposition witness slips filed in comparison to seven supporters.
Home School Legal Defense Association has issued a call for home schoolers to resist the law change and notify lawmakers of their opposition. The measure would require homeschooling families to keep formal records of their five year old's curriculum and force private schools to open their doors to younger ones as well.
No House members have signed onto the measure as of today – but they're expected to jump on board as soon as it clears the Senate.
But one thing, now Illinoisans know exactly what JB Pritzker meant when he said "free preschool for all."
UPDATE x1: Illinois State Board of Education's Jackie Matthews told Illinois Review in a statement Friday afternoon:
Statute currently requires school districts to offer school free or charge for 5-year-olds. (See Sec. 10-20.12 of the School Code at http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/fulltext.asp?DocName=010500050K10-20.12.)
The bill currently in the General Assembly would make attendance mandatory for all students who turn five prior to September 1.