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California

August 31, 2004

Senate Bill 550(As Drafted 7/16/04, Not in print): Lowers Compulsory Attendance Age from 6 to 5 years old

Author:
State Senator John Vasconcellos

Summary:
SB 550 would have lowered the compulsory attendance age for entry into school from 6 to 5 years of age. This requirement would have applied to all children, whether their parents planned to send them to public school or private school (including private homeschools).

Status:
Bill has died

HSLDA's Position:
Oppose

Action Requested:
No action required at this time.

Background:
SB 550 would have lowered the compulsory attendance age for entry into school from 6 to 5 years of age. This requirement would have applied to all children, whether their parents planned to send them to public school or private school (including private homeschools).

SB 550 was one of 5 bills for which new proposed language was recently drafted and would have been used by the conference committee as the basis for the final language of these bills.

Section 6 of the SB 550 draft states, "It is the intent of the Legislature that each person aged 5 years not exempted under this chapter or Chapter 3 (commencing with Section 48400) shall be subject to compulsory full-time education."

Universally available preschool for 3 and 4 year-olds is proposed in AB 56, which is also one of the five bills being considered by the conference committee. The National Education Association's goal, as stated in their 2000-2001 Resolution B-1, is to establish early childhood education programs for children starting at birth. If SB 550 passes, it could easily be followed by legislation to lower the compulsory education age down to 3 years, as was attempted in Washington D.C. schools in 2001-2002.

Analysis:
SB 550 would have lowered the compulsory school age from 6 to 5. The 7/16/04 draft language for SB 550 says, "It is the intent of the Legislature that each person aged 5 years not exempted under this chapter or Chapter 3… shall be subject to compulsory full-time education." This draft language is the basis for what the conference committee on the California Master Plan for Education will amend into SB 550, requiring all 5-year-olds to attend a school.

  1. SB 550 forces children into school too soon. There are no long-term replicable studies proving that mandating attendance at age 5 rather than 6 is better for the educational development of the child. To the contrary, there is much research indicating that early childhood education does not improve the child's potential for being a better student in the future, because early gains disappear in a few of years. This is especially significant for boys, because their cognitive and verbal skill development generally lags behind that of girls at this age.
  2. SB 550 is not necessary. According to the Assembly Education Committee, 91-95% of all children of kindergarten age already attend public or private kindergarten. Parents who desire to enroll their children at age 5 in California can choose to do so already. In September 2002, Governor Davis vetoed a similar bill, AB 634, and stated, "I am concerned that this bill would unduly restrict a parent's or guardian's education choices for their children. I believe parents should retain the right to choose an education program for their 5-year old children."
  3. SB 550 decreases beneficial parental contact with their children. An extra year of development outside of school can be critical for a child at this early age. Carl Zinsmeister, Adjunct Research Associate at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, says, "Declining parental attachment is an extremely serious risk to children today. The verdict of enormous psychological literature is that time spent with the parent is the very clearest correlate of healthy child development." Parents should continue to have the authority to decide what is best for their children.
  4. SB 550 is based on faulty information. This attempt to bring children into formal education programs at a younger age is based on an erroneous assumption. Arthur Jensen, a learning psychologist, wrote in the Harvard Educational Review in 1969 that Benjamin Bloom's conclusion that people develop 50% of their mature intelligence by the age of 4 is a statistically unwarranted conclusion. In 1970, Nancy Bayley, a University of California child psychologist whose data Bloom used, pointed out that Bloom's theory was wrong because it was based on an inadequate definition of intelligence. In spite of statements to the contrary, there is no solid evidence that early education brings any lasting or permanent educational benefit to a child. The conclusions being drawn based on recent studies of child's brain development are similar to the above faulty conclusions. The fact that a young child's brain develops rapidly does not warrant the faulty conclusion that more institutionalized and peer-dominated settings improve the child's mental, emotional, and social development. There are studies that have demonstrated the opposite.
  5. SB 550 would have an adverse financial impact on all Californians. California's current facility and teacher shortage crisis would be made worse as a result of an influx of some 20,000 to 40,000 new children being forced to enter public kindergarten. This increase in the kindergarten population will also increase the financial burden on the state's ability to fund its public education programs. This will result in the need to increase state education revenues. Increases in education revenues come either as direct increases in taxes from California citizens; approving and selling bonds, which moves the tax burden to future generations; or transferring funds from another part of the State budget.

 Other Resources

SB 550 (Senator Vasconcellos) was Defeated!