WA bill that would require kids to start school at 5 years old strikes nerve with homeschool families

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Even though most children in Washington start public school at five-years-old, Washington is the only state in the nation that doesn’t require it until age eight.

That could change with a senate bill that would lower the compulsory school attendance age from eight-years-old to five-years old.

Senate Bill 5537 is still in committee and it’s already striking a nerve with local families.

“The homeschool community is saying we don’t want to have to start formal instruction with our five, six and seven-year-olds unless we would like to do that individually,” said Jen Garrison Stuber, Advocacy Chair of the Washington Homeschool Organization.

Stuber is also a Spokane County resident and says the bill is an issue with not only homeschooling parents, but any parents who want to retain control over when their children start a formal education.

“It’s not just a homeschool thing,” she said. “You’ve got these three years to do whatever you would like to do before you absolutely have to send your child to school or to officially begin homeschooling them.”

Stuber testified at a public hearing about this bill.

The hearing was held before the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, led by the author of SB 5537, State Senator Lisa Wellman.

“We can’t allow ourselves and our children to not have the same head-start as those that they will be competing with for jobs in the future,” said Senator Wellman.

In between testimonies, Wellman reassured that homeschool parents would simply have to declare an intent to homeschool their children sooner, at age five rather than age eight.

“You will always have our support and we will always stand with ensuring educational opportunities fitting individual children and families’ needs,” she said. “We are simply starting and stating the education process earlier.”

One parent shared how she entered her child in the public school system later instead of resolving to become a homeschool family.

She said in the hearing that the freedom for families to decide what path of education to take with their child at age eight versus age five is just as important.

“If they are forced to choose between sending their child to public school and homeschooling, many of them will choose homeschooling when public schooling would be the right choice for them if they’d just been given a little bit more time,” said the testifying parent.

Even though homeschool families wouldn’t be forced to put their children in the public school system, many testified that even outside of it, parents should be free to choose for their children.

To them, the argument that “other states are doing it and we’re falling behind” is not enough.

“This is sort of a bill in search of a problem. There’s not a problem,” said Stuber.

Stuber hopes this bill dies in committee.

The public hearing was on Friday, Jan. 14 and it’s now set to be discussed in executive session this Friday, Jan. 28.

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