Feb 2, 2023 - News

Washington may lower mandatory school age from 8 to 6

Illustration of a children's block with a downward arrow on it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Washington is the only state in the nation that doesn't require kids to go to school until age 8 — but that could change this year.

What's happening: A bill in Washington's Legislature would lower the state's compulsory age for school attendance from 8 to 6.

  • With few exceptions, parents of kids not in public or private school would need to document they are offering robust homeschooling by age 6.

The big picture: More than half of U.S. states — 26 — require students to start school by age 6, according to the Education Commission of the States. Others mandate school attendance by either 7 or 5.

Why it matters: State Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island), who chairs the state Senate's education committee and is sponsoring the measure, said Washington has been pushing to get all students proficient in reading by third grade, a milestone viewed as critical to their academic success.

  • But that's a hard goal to reach if students aren't required to go to school until they're already the age of a typical third grader, she said.
  • A 2012 analysis commissioned by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that students who didn't read proficiently by third grade were four times as likely to fail to graduate high school on time.

What they're saying: "We need children to have instruction, however it might be given," Wellman said during a recent public hearing. "I cannot stress how important it is to start learning as early as possible."

The other side: Previous efforts to lower the age for mandatory school attendance have faltered amid opposition from parents.

  • Several parents also testified in opposition to this year's bill, saying it would take away parents' ability to decide what's best for their children.
  • While homeschooling would still be allowed, several parents said the bill would impose onerous record-keeping requirements for those new to homeschooling, while leaving less time for play-based learning for the youngest kids.
  • "Having more red tape during the early years is an additional stress that is not needed," said Julie Barrett, founder of Conservative Ladies of Washington.

What we're watching: Whether parental opposition will relegate this year's proposal to the dustbin like in past years, or if lawmakers will reverse course and decide it's a necessary step.


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