State lawmakers consider changing mandatory school age

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by HEATHER GRAF / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @HeatherGrafK5

KING5.com

Posted on February 17, 2013 at 11:53 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 18 at 8:02 AM

It's a little-known law in Washington: parents are not legally required to send their kids to school until they turn eight years old.

Washington and Pennsylvania are the only two remaining states that do so.

Representative Marcie Maxwell calls it an archaic way of thinking.  She's proposed new legislation, House Bill 1283, that would change the mandatory school age from eight to six.

That seems to be the most common requirement in the country. Thirty-three other states require formal education to begin by age six.

When House Bill 1283 went before a House Committee for the first time last month, Maxwell told her fellow lawmakers the current law originated in 1901, more than a century ago.  She urged them to consider the update, saying the economy and need for education and skills in Washington were quite different back then than they are now.

"I mean, eight, just seems too old," Seattle parent Rachel Matthews said.  "Connor is three and a half, and I already have him in pre-school, which he definitely needs, and he's learning a lot."

Since most Washington parents already put their kids in school well before age 8, Matthews and other moms and dads we spoke with were surprised to hear about the current law.

Most agreed, a change is long overdue.

"I agree with the proposal to drop it down to six, in line with other states," said one father. 

The bill is gaining support in Olympia and is being backed by several educational groups, including the state Board of Education, the Association of Washington School Principals and the Washington Education Association.

The lone exception?  The Washington Homeschool Organization.

Chairwoman Emilie Fogle said her organization doesn't understand why the change is necessary.  She says they have a lot of questions about the bill, and believe it interferes with parental rights.

For instance, she said, a family with a special-needs child might intentionally choose to enroll their child two years behind, at age eight, to give he or she the best chance to succeed. 

Maxwell stresses that exceptions would be given to those families that teach from home. They would be effectively grandfathered in, and parents would not be required to declare their intent to home-school until their kids turn 8.

Fogle says her organization's fear is that any exception would be short-lived.

"At any time, they can revoke the exception," she said.

Last week, House Bill 1283 was approved by the House Education Committee.  It now heads to the House Rules Committee.

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