INDIANAPOLIS — The state's school superintendent will urge the Indiana General Assembly this session to lower the compulsory school age of students from 7 to 5 as a way to demonstrate commitment to Indiana's investment in education.
"We are a state that has said clearly we are supporting pockets of pre-K," Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick said Tuesday.
"There's just too much on the line academically. There's too much on the line with the demands of workforce, with higher education, that we are not making a stand," she said.
She added, "To me it's about sending a message of the importance of that whole continuum of the education system. I think it's time that Indiana enter into a world where at least we're saying at 5 you need to be in a structured educational environment."
In Ohio, the compulsory age is 6; however, if a child enters kindergarten at 5, he or she is considered to be of compulsory age. The compulsory age in Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan is 6.
The Indiana State Teachers Association has advocated for the age to be lowered to 6.
"Five, I don't think we'd have a problem with," said ISTA President Teresa Meredith. "If you said compulsory age of 5, then they'd at least have to be enrolled in a pre-school or kindergarten program. I think we would support that."
In 2015 and 2017, State Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, introduced bills to lower the school age. Both bills were assigned to the Senate education committee but never heard.
The proposal has been held up by legislators who, first, question the costs for requiring more classrooms and teachers. There were estimates last year that requiring students to enroll in a kindergarten program if they are 5 would cost an additional $12.4 million annually.
There's also a conceptual objection. Some legislators don't believe the state should mandate a younger age if parents don't feel that their child is ready for school.
Taylor, encouraged Tuesday by McCormick's comments, said he would introduce another bill for the 2018 session.
"I think it has a 50-50 chance," Taylor said Tuesday. "I think it's better that the Superintendent has stepped up and indicated to the leadership that she's on board with the concept."
"There's no ifs, ands or buts — if kids start school at 7 years old, they're behind," he added.
Starting children earlier in school would help save costs for remediation later in a student's career, Taylor said.
McCormick, now serving her first year as superintendent, listed 18 items on her agenda for 2018 centered around student learning, school improvement and operational effectiveness.
Currently facing the superintendent is an unknown on high school diplomas.
A state Graduation Pathways Panel is recommending that high school graduates not only earn a diploma but demonstrate employable skills and show post-secondary-ready competencies, such as passing the SAT or ACT.
Also included in the competency requirement is an opportunity for "locally created pathways," approved by the state board of education.
"The concern with that is, what does that mean, how rigorous would that be, how trackable is it, what really is the return on investment for all the work upfront for a student?" McCormick said. "We have a lot of questions on those locally created pathways.
"I appreciate flexibility at the local level. I support that, but let's think about implementation," she said.
At most, McCormick supports a review of diploma requirements such as looking at courses required for graduation.
The state board of education will consider action on the plan on Dec. 6.