The Michigan Senate on Tuesday passed SB 285, which mandates all children who have reached the age of five-years-old by September 1 attend kindergarten.

Opponents of the bill say it’s a backdoor attempt to create a registry for homeschool and private school students, and say there’s no guarantee that mandating kindergarten leads to better educational outcomes due to the poor track record of Michigan schools.

“Senate Bill 285 is further evidence of Democrats’ opinion of parents: The government knows better than you when and how to educate, what to teach, and even how to raise – your own children,” Sen. Lana Theis, R-Brighton, told The Midwesterner.

“The governor created a problem for herself wanting universal preschool for four-year-olds when there was no mandate for kindergarten for five-year-olds,” Theis said.  “While solving that self-created problem, the bill actually creates more problems. SB 285 wouldn’t allow a parent to delay homeschooling their five-year old if the child isn’t yet ready. If your child had a late-year birthday, this bill wouldn’t let parents place their child directly into first grade, even if the child had already fully mastered the skills taught in kindergarten.”

“This bill raises concerns about government overreach, privacy, safety, and family autonomy. And it sets the scene for government interference in homeschooling. It’s a terrible precedent.”

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Chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, co-sponsored the bill, which passed on a 21-15 vote. All Senate Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Ruth Johnson, voted for the bill. If the bill is passed by the Michigan House of Representatives, it will move to the desk of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Sen. Thomas Albert, R-Lowell, opposed the bill.

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In his remarks to the Senate, Albert said: “This legislation continues a troubling pattern from the majority of this legislature. It’s another policy change that is ineffective in focusing on the wrong things.  While I fully agree that all kids should start their K12 education in kindergarten can anyone show any objective data or revealing that they’re currently not? This bill does nothing to address the real problems our kids are facing in our schools and it continues to promote the false idea that the government knows more than parents when it comes to what’s best for their children.”

Albert asked what the good will be accomplished by making homeschooling and private school parents report to their local public schools or when their children will be starting kindergarten.

“What are what are the districts supposed to do with this information? Is this a step toward the tracking of some families who might homeschool or send their kids to private school? That’s none of the states business?” the senator asked.

He also pointed out that the school administrators he has talked to say they don’t know any instance of a five-year-old skipping kindergarten prior to enrolling in first grade.

“We all agree that kids should have access and receive a kindergarten education,” Albert continued. “This is already being achieved without a state mandate. We are spending time and energy addressing a problem that does not exist since we do not have a problem of children skipping kindergarten in the state.”

Albert also stated the state should focus on other educational issues, including addressing chronic absenteeism and restoring accountability measures that were “gutted” by the legislature.

“We took a big step backward in terms of actually helping kids learn,” he said. “We did that when we did things like repealing the 3rd grade reading law and weakened evaluation standards. We should be focusing on retaining teachers and filling vacancies and supporting our teachers with the resources they need and the standards in place to help our kids learn.”

The Senate Fiscal Agency reported that the costs imposed under SB 285 are unknown.

“Using first-grade pupil counts as a proxy for entering kindergarten counts, requiring public school enrollment for all five-year-olds could increase statewide pupil count by approximately 4,500 pupils. At the Fiscal Year 2023-24 target foundation allowance of $9,608, this would be a cost increase of approximately $43.3 million per year, or a foundation allowance increase of 0.4%.”