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Is mandatory kindergarten a back door to homeschool registry?

Public schools stand to gain from mandatory kindergarten proposal

Michigan lawmakers are considering a Senate bill to make kindergarten mandatory in the state, starting at age 5. The way the bill is written could open the door to the someday registration and regulation of homeschools.

Senate Bill 285 was submitted in April 2023 by Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia. Polehanki chairs the Senate Education Committee, and on Tuesday the committee heard testimony on the bill.

Testifying on the bill was Sheryl Kennedy, the Michigan Department of Education’s liaison to the legislature. In her 11-page PowerPoint presentation, Kennedy explained what the bill does and does not do.

What affects homeschoolers, and moves Michigan law toward a registry, is the section about “demonstrated enrollment” in kindergarten for all five-year-olds. This includes homeschool students.

“I don’t see language in the actual bill that requires parents to demonstrate where their kids are enrolled in school,” said Molly Macek, the Mackinac Center’s director of education policy. “However, the bill does open the door to these types of policies. And the fact that Dr. Kennedy chose to use this language is concerning.”

Polehanki, at Tuesday’s hearing, said “It doesn’t make sense that students skip kindergarten,” without offering evidence that any students do skip kindergarten.

“So kindergarten must be made mandatory in our state if we’re serious about improving academics,” Polehanki added.

Read it for yourself: Senate Bill 285

In Michigan, homeschools are not required to register with the state, and parents are not required to declare that their students are being homeschooled.

The six-page bill does carve out a homeschool exception, among others. But it comes with requirements. The relevant portion is excerpted below:

The child is being educated at the child's home by his or her parent or legal guardian in an organized educational program in the subject areas of reading, spelling, mathematics, science, history, civics, literature, writing, and English grammar.

“An organized educational program” could be the back door to homeschool curriculum regulations. State Board of Education member Tom McMillin warned in February of this possibility

According to the Senate Fiscal Agency analysis of the bill, public schools stand to gain from the bill.

“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,” the analysis reads. “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%.”

“This is a win for schools that increase their student count at the expense of parents sacrificing their ability to choose what is best for their kids,” Macek said.

Polehanki said recently that a homeschool registry bill was coming, then played coy in refusing to name the sponsor. In the two weeks since, no such bill has materialized in Lansing.

Then, this week, Polehanki’s committee took testimony on her bill, which was submitted almost a year ago.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.