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District of Columbia
District of Columbia

December 17, 2013

Cradle to Grave—The D.C. Solution

Staff Attorney Mike Donnelly answers questions and assists members regarding legal issues in D.C. He and his wife homeschool. Read more >>

District of Columbia officials have re-opened the cradle-to-grave-in-education debate by resurrecting a bad old idea—mandatory pre-school for toddlers.

The D.C. Council operates as the legislative body for the nation’s capital but is subject to congressional oversight. It is yet again considering legislation that would force children barely able to talk and probably not even potty trained to attend school. D.C. already has one of the lowest age requirements for compulsory school attendance, currently mandating that all 5-year-olds and some 4-year-olds be enrolled in a school. Bill 178 would lower the compulsory age of attendance from age 5 to age 3.

Same Bad Idea

Sadly, this is not the first time the D.C. Council has considered lowering the compulsory attendance age. In 2002, HSLDA worked with many D.C. citizens to defeat Bill 14-261 which would also have required 2- and 3-year-olds to attend mandatory preschool programs. Unlike the children it seeks to control, this bad idea hasn’t matured with age.

For homeschoolers in the District, the bill would require an additional two years of homeschool notification and restrict parents’ options for the education of their children. Current homeschool regulations include a requirement to teach specific subjects during the period of time that public schools are in session. If this bill passes, homeschool parents would now need to start teaching their 2- and 3-year-olds subjects such as math, science, and social studies.

While most moms already teach their 2- and 3-year-olds to count and more, requiring them to be shipped off to a government run “pre-school” isn’t a likely a recipe for success. Studies have shown that lowering the compulsory attendance age does not improve academic achievement and can even hurt the long-term educational potential of students.

With some of the worst academic performance in the country, Washington, D.C. has nothing to show for its current record low compulsory school attendance age. The proposed bill would simply take decisions for children out of the hands of parents and give it to the state. (Read HSLDA’s Issues Library entry on early education.)

Taking a Stand

Last week, HSLDA’s staff attorney for the District of Columbia, Mike Donnelly, filed testimony to the D.C. Council documenting the empirical evidence against lowering the compulsory school attendance age.

This bill adopts a one-size-fits-all compulsory attendance requirement that will not help child development. Children so young simply do not benefit from formal schooling. Research points to social pathologies and behavioral problems that are linked to lack of time parents spend with their children. Lowering the compulsory school attendance age is nothing short of government subsidized babysitting—something that D.C. residents already qualify for.

In fact, a District policy currently guarantees access to preschool for any 3-year-old. Many parents already choose to utilize the public school’s voluntary preschool program. In February, the Washington Post reported that over 85 percent of the District’s 15,000 3- and 4-year-olds attend a public preschool.

The problem with lowering the compulsory attendance age is that it changes this option into a requirement, robbing parents of the right to choose the best for their individual children. Parents are the ones who should determine when or if their children should attend a traditional school. Requiring preschool attendance undermines the ability of all parents to make these choices and provide their children with the best care and education.

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Learn More

HSLDA is closely monitoring Bill 178 and is working to oppose it. You can track its progress and learn more from our website.

Protect Your Family

HSLDA stands with homeschoolers across the nation to defend a parent’s right to direct the education and upbringing of their children. If you or someone you know is not a member of HSLDA, will you consider taking a moment today to join or recommend us? Your support for our work enables us to defend individual families threatened by government officials and protect homeschooling freedom for all. Join now >>