State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago), pictured here on the House floor earlier this month, sponsored legislation that passed the House Monday to lower the mandatory age when kids must begin school from seven to six years old. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
SPRINGFIELD-Illinois House members voted Monday to lower the age at which children must begin attending school from seven to six years old over objections that parents should make the decision themselves.
House members debated the idea, sponsored by Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago), for more than 20 minutes and passed the measure by a 64-52 vote. The bill now moves to the Senate.
"This is a jobs bill," Ford argued. "It also provides opportunities for parents to go to work and have a learning environment for their children while they work."
Under the bill, children turning six years old on or before September 1 must attend the public school in their district if not already enrolled in a school beginning with the 2014-2015 school year.
Ford contended that the legislation wouldn't be a major change because current law requires children to begin school no later than age seven.
But at least one House member, who called the idea a "state-funded babysitting service," argued that parents should make the decision.
"Kids [need] some time with their parents to develop the basic social skills - the responsibility, the respect that aren't being taught in our schools," Rep. David Reis (R-Willow Hill) said. "At this young age, that's when they need to be home with family, a tighter group of people, whether that's a babysitter or whatever. I just think that lowering it to seven goes in the opposite of that."
Several other opponents, both Democrats and Republicans, pressed Ford on the necessity of his bill, considering parents can already choose to enroll their children in school before they turn seven years old.
"We are passing legislation that we can already do," Rep. Renee Kosel (R-New Lenox) said. "We are telling parents what they should do when they can already make those decisions themselves. And we are further putting penalties on them which could include jail time - jail time - for not complying with this bill."
Current law charges parents with a Class C misdemeanor if their child misses class for nine or more days without an excuse. That penalty could impose a fine of up to $500 or jail time for up to 30 days.
Still, Ford thinks the idea would benefit children, their parents and the state as a whole.
"I think this is the right thing to do. It will cause savings to the state," Ford said.
A similar measure passed the House with 82 votes last month, but would only require children turning seven years old during the regular school year to attend school for the whole year.
In light of already having passed that legislation, some House members were upset that Ford's idea was even being considered.
"Folks, this is a radical move," Rep. Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro) said. "We're jumping. We're jumping headlong into a case of mandatory requirement. Folks, pay attention to what were doing. Vote no."
The Senate has until Friday to act on the measure. If approved there, the bill will go to Gov. Pat Quinn, who supports the idea.