A bill that would have lowered Washington’s compulsory school attendance age from age 8 to age 6 appears to have died in committee.
Many homeschool parents testified against the bill, stressing stories about their own children who were not ready for formal education by a certain age. They also talked about studies that show rushing children into formal schooling before they are ready can be detrimental.
Let Parents Decide
HSLDA Staff Attorney Amy Buchmeyer, who assists Home School Legal Defense Association member families in Washington and 12 other states, also testified. She explained to lawmakers how the proposed bill would limit freedom and possibly harm children.
She advised that S.B. 5537 threatened to undermine a key aspect of homeschooling’s effectiveness: the ability of parents to customize learning programs to fit the needs and interests of individual students.
Since parents know their children best and are most invested in their students’ success, Buchmeyer explained, parents are in the best position to determine when to begin each child’s formal education.
According to HSLDA legal assistant Jane White, who helps homeschooling families in Washington, the bill would also have “increased the regulatory burden on homeschool parents by requiring them to turn in notification paperwork and keep records for two additional years.”
Washington law currently requires homeschool parents to file a notice of intent each year, teach for a certain number of days, and cover 11 different required subjects. White said she estimates that making homeschool parents meet compulsory attendance requirements for children at age 6 instead of age 8 would boost their filing and record-keeping workload by at least 22 percent.
Failure to comply with this mandate could provoke serious consequences, White pointed out, such as being accused of truancy or educational neglect.
Looking at the Evidence: Children Develop Differently
Several studies on the subject support parental choice in starting formal education for their students: for example, a recent study published in Developmental Psychology suggests that any learning advantages acquired by students who attend preschool quickly fade in subsequent grades.
And another study in the New Scientist concluded that even for students who can keep up, requiring children under age 7 to start school can result in unintended harm to the child's development. The article emphasized that play "enable[s] early humans to become powerful learners and problem-solvers."
Partnering with Freedom-Loving Families
Offering testimony of this sort is a recurring task for HSLDA’s attorneys, especially during this time of year, when many states convene for a new legislative session.
Buchmeyer said that she also works closely with homeschool leaders on the state level: “The Washington Homeschool Organization has been a vital ally in opposing this bill. They have been the boots on the ground reaching out to their elected officials and coordinating grassroots efforts.”
She also talked about the opportunity to add her voice and unique perspective to the testimonies of homeschool families, on behalf of HSLDA: “It’s one of the most powerful things we can do for the homeschool community,” said Buchmeyer. “What I offer is testimony based on professional experience. As an HSLDA attorney, I’ve studied the law and seen how it affects homeschooling families on a practical basis. Because of that, I can predict how a certain bill will affect those families.”
In persuading legislators, she continued, it helps that she and other HSLDA attorneys can also say that—on behalf of 107,000 HSLDA member families—this bill is harmful.