Kindergarten: The Foundation of Education

by Caroline Campagna


Louisiana has steadily ranked nearly last in state-education-achievement rankings for childhood education, which includes kindergarten through twelfth grade.[1] In fact, Louisiana public schools are currently ranked 50th in the countryhigh school graduation rate among low-income students, median SAT and ACT scores, and math and reading scores.[2] Alarmingly only about half of kindergarten through third grade students in Louisiana are reading at their grade level.[3] Moreover, around 160,000 Louisiana students in kindergarten through fifth grade cannot read.[4] Because of these concerning statistics, Louisiana legislators are making education a priority within the state.[5] Lawmakers are investing in education by focusing specifically on kindergarten education.[6]

Until the 2022–2023 school year, children in Louisiana were able to avoid kindergarten altogether because the prior law did not require parents to send their children to school until the age of seven.[7] However, kindergarten may no longer be evaded due to the passage of Senate Bill 10.[8] Pursuant to this bill, all children who have reached the age of five will be required to attend kindergarten beginning in the 2022-2023 school year.[9] The bill unanimously passed in the Senate with a vote of 38–0, while the House of Representatives backed the bill with a vote of 70–32.[10] Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards supported the bill as part of his legislative package, and on June 16, 2021, he signed Act 386, enacting Senate Bill 10 into law.[11]

I. Mandatory Kindergarten in the United States

Kindergarten has been part of the United States education system for over 150 years.[12] In 1860, Elizabeth Peabody opened the first American English-language kindergarten in Boston.[13] Subsequently, the first public-school kindergarten opened in 1870, and in 1874, the National Education Association established a kindergarten department.[14] Over time, an understanding of the importance of early learning and children’s capabilities shifted kindergarten to a more academic-based learning system.[15] As a result, kindergarten is crucial for children’s education, as it sets the stage and foundation for all the subsequent school years.[16]

Kindergarten provides a structured environment for learning, and in return, children acquire the necessary skills to succeed in elementary school, including social development, emotional development, academic skills, and fine motor skills.[17] Enrolling children in kindergarten allows them to learn how to work independently and in groups, and it strengthens their ability to cope with difficulties they may face in subsequent grade levels.[18] Moreover, with children increasing their vocabulary from 900 to 2,500 words from the ages of three to five, kindergarten provides an environment for these young students to enhance their communication skills.[19] All of these skills enable children to smoothly transition into subsequent grade levels.[20]

With this wide recognition of the value of early education, Louisiana is not the first state to prioritize kindergarten.[21] In the United States, each state has different laws and requirements regarding kindergarten.[22] Notably, by the 1980s, ten states required children to attend kindergarten.[23] Today, 39 states and the District of Columbia require school districts to offer kindergarten,[24] and 20 states, including several southern states, have implemented laws mandating that children attend kindergarten.[25]

As for Louisiana, mandating kindergarten may provide a turning point for early childhood education within the state. Currently, the other southern states that mandate kindergarten—Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas—all have higher literacy rates than Louisiana.[26] Mandating kindergarten and lowering the age at which children are required to attend school from seven years old to five will enable children to learn essential skills in kindergarten and reach their grade-appropriate reading level as they move into first grade.[27]

II. Mandatory Kindergarten in Louisiana

Although Louisiana has consistently ranked at the bottom in national education rankings, the law mandating kindergarten has not been enacted without objections.[28] In fact, in 2005, 2008, and 2012, the Louisiana Legislature rejected laws mandating kindergarten.[29] Opponents of Senate Bill 10, including the Louisiana Family Forum, argued that decisions regarding children’s education should be made by parents, not lawmakers.[30] More specifically, opponents point to the Louisiana Children’s Code, which recognizes that decisions regarding “the educational, moral, ethical, and religious training of the child” should be made by parents.[31] Additionally, opponents argue that mandating kindergarten before children are developmentally ready can lead to “frustration and failure”.[32]

Despite the opposition to mandatory kindergarten, Senate Bill 10 gained enough support to be signed into law.[33] Proponents of Senate Bill 10 emphasized the importance of early childhood education and preparedness of children at a young age in order to prevent children from falling behind in their grade level.[34] The prioritization of early childhood education stems from concerns regarding statistics on early childhood development and learning. Specifically, research shows that 90% of brain development happens between birth and five years of age.[35] Last year, only 43% of kindergarten students, 54% of first graders, 56% of second graders, and 53% of third graders were reading at grade level in Louisiana.[36] Moreover, Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education found that kindergarten is especially advantageous for children from low-income families, which account for two-thirds of Louisiana’s public school population.[37] According to the study, children who attend kindergarten typically succeed in the future grade levels and are more likely to graduate from high school than children who do not attend kindergarten.[38] With a shift toward prioritizing early childhood education, lawmakers received support from the educational institutions throughout the state, including the Louisiana School Boards Association, Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, Louisiana Public Charter Schools Association, Child Care Association of Louisiana, Louisiana Association of Educators, Louisiana Federation of Teachers, and the Council for a Better Louisiana.[39]

III. Mandatory Kindergarten Bill

The enactment of Act 386 is likely to bring a pivotal change to early childhood education in Louisiana. Louisiana’s prior law, Louisiana Revised Statutes § 17:151.3, required the state’s public school system to provide and offer full-day kindergarten throughout the state and established the minimum age for entering into kindergarten as one year younger than the minimum age for entering first grade, which is six years old on or before September 30th.[40] Section 17:151.3 also required every child to either attend a full-day kindergarten program or pass an academic readiness screening established by the local school system as a prerequisite to entering first grade.[41] Furthermore, under the prior law, Louisiana Revised Statutes § 17:221, parents and legal guardians must send their children ages 7 through 18 to school, unless the child graduates from high school prior to his 18th birthday.[42] Prior law, Louisiana Revised Statutes § 17:222, allowed the Jefferson and Orleans Parish school boards to set a different minimum age for entrance into first grade by establishing proof of age, race, and parentage.[43]

Act 386 amends § 17:151.3, § 17:221(A)(1), and § 17:222 and enacts Louisiana Revised Statutes § 17:221(E).[44] Under Act 386, § 17:151.3 requires that beginning with the 2022–2023 school year, a child who turns five years of age on or before September 30th must attend a full-day kindergarten program and must satisfactorily pass a readiness assessment before entering first grade.[45] Notwithstanding this provision, the new law provides:

(1) That a parent or legal guardian shall have the option to defer enrolling his child in kindergarten for one year if either of the following applies: (a) The child is four years of age on the first day of the school year. (b) The child is enrolled in a prekindergarten program. (2) That a parent or legal guardian who opts to defer enrollment of his child in kindergarten as provided in the new law shall not be considered to be in noncompliance with the compulsory school attendance law.[46]

Beginning with the 2022–2023 school year, § 17:221 will require compulsory school attendance for children ages 5 through 18 unless the child’s parent or legal guardian opts to defer his child’s enrollment in kindergarten in accordance with the new law or the child, prior to his 18th birthday, graduates from high school.[47] Under § 17:222, the minimum age threshold for children entering into the first grade is removed and prior law allowing Jefferson and Orleans Parishes to establish different entry standards is rendered void as of June 30, 2022.[48] Lastly, § 17:221(E) provides an exception for families that plan to homeschool their children for kindergarten.[49] Under § 17:221(E), parents or legal guardians may homeschool their children for kindergarten, as long as they also report the child’s attendance to the state Department of Education.[50] Furthermore, kindergarten students in an approved home-study program shall be considered in compliance with the compulsory attendance law.[51]

As a consequence of the enactment of Senate Bill 10, beginning in the 2022–2023 school year the Louisiana kindergarten roll is estimated to add up to 2,800 students throughout the state.[52] This investment in early childhood education will not be implemented without a cost.[53] The Legislative Fiscal Office estimated that the fiscal note for the bill will cost between $2 million and $12 million.[54] According to Governor Edwards, any additional cost for implementing mandatory kindergarten throughout the state will be paid from the $3.9 billion state funding formula for grades kindergarten through twelfth grade.[55]


Educational achievement within Louisiana’s schools is crucial for the success of children in the future. Act 386 provides the state with the chance to increase the success of educational achievement in Louisiana by reducing the mandatory age for children to attend school from seven years of age to five years of age.[56] The shift toward putting children’s education at the forefront of Louisiana legislation is a significant step in revitalizing the education system in Louisiana. Supporters of Act 386 are optimistic about the future of childhood education, foreseeing that prioritizing early childhood education will improve children’s academic performance and have a significant impact on the state as a whole.[57] For Louisiana taxpayers, this bill is an investment in the future of the state. As for the children in this state, this legislation brings opportunities and hope for a successful future.

[1] Map: State Grades on K-12 Education: Map and Rankings, Educ. Week (Jan. 13, 2016), []; see also Public School Rankings by State 2021, World Population Rev., [] (last visited Jan. 5, 2022).

[2] Helen Lewis, Prioritizing Education, Louisiana Legislature Passes Bill to Make Kindergarten Mandatory, The Big Easy Mag. (June 11, 2021), []; see also Public School Rankings by State 2021, supra note 1.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] See Act 386, S.B. 10, 2021 Leg., Reg. Sess. (La. 2021).

[7] See La. Rev. Stat. § 17:221 (2021).

[8] See La. S.B. 10.

[9] Melinda Deslatte, Lawmakers Decide Kindergarten Will Be Mandatory in Louisiana, U.S. News (June 9, 2021), [].

[10] Id.

[11] Id.; see also Mandatory Kindergarten, Natchitoches Times (May 18, 2021), [].

[12] What Age to Start Kindergarten by State 2021, World Population Rev., [] (last visited Jan. 5, 2022).

[13] Constance Mackenzie, Kindergartens: A History (1886), VCU Social Welfare History Project, [] (last visited Jan. 5, 2022).

[14] Id.

[15] Jen Scott Curwood, What Happened to Kindergarten, Scholastic (Aug. 2007), [].

[16] Ellen Weston, The Importance of Kindergarten, Child.’s Educ. Consulting LLC (Nov. 20, 2019), [].

[17] 6 Reasons Why Kindergarten Is Crucial in the Proper Upbringing of Your Child, Hampers & Hiccups, [] (last visited Jan. 5, 2022).

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Bryan Kelley, 50-State Comparison: State K-3 Policies, Educ. Comm’n of the State, [] (last visited Jan. 5, 2022).

[22] What Age to Start Kindergarten by State 2021, supra note 12.

[23] 6 Reasons Why Kindergarten Is Crucial in the Proper Upbringing of Your Child, supra note 17.

[24] Kelley, supra note 21.

[25] Lewis, supra note 2.

[26] Id.

[27] 6 Reasons Why Kindergarten Is Crucial in the Proper Upbringing of Your Child, supra note 17.

[28] Deslatte, supra note 8; see also Public School Rankings by State 2021, supra note 1.

[29] Lewis, supra note 2.

[30] Greg Hilburn, Bill to Make Kindergarten Mandatory for Louisiana Students Nears Final Passage, Daily Advertiser (June 3, 2021), [].

[31] La. Child. Code art. 101 (2021).

[32] Hilburn, supra note 30.

[33] Id.

[34] Id.

[35]  Makenzie Boucher, Louisiana Sen. Cleo Fields, Education Leaders Hail Signing of Mandatory Kindergarten Bill, Shreveport Times (June 23, 2021), [].

[36] Will Sentell, Why a Battle Is Shaping Up in Louisiana Over the Latest Push for Mandatory Kindergarten, The Advocate (Mar. 1, 2021), [].

[37] Id.

[38] Id.

[39] Lewis, supra note 2.

[40] La. Rev. Stat. § 17:151.3 (2021).

[41] Id.

[42] Id. § 17:221 (2021).

[43] Id. § 17:222.

[44] See Act 386, S.B. 10, 2021 Leg., Reg. Sess. (La. 2021).

[45] Id.

[46] Id.

[47] Id.

[48] Id.

[49] Id.

[50] Id.

[51] Id.

[52] Deslatte, supra note 9.

[53] Greg Hilburn, Did You Know Kindergarten Is Voluntary in Louisiana? Bill to Make It Mandatory Gains Momentum, Lafayette Daily Advertiser (May 10, 2021), [].

[54] Id.

[55] Mandatory Kindergarten, supra note 11.

[56] Id.

[57] Deslatte, supra note 9; see also Boucher, supra note 35.