- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 30, 2002

Some D.C. groups are voicing objections to a City Council proposal to require children to begin preparing for school at age 3. They believe it to be unconstitutional.
The Home School Legal Defense Association, based in Purcellville, Va., said that, although it is up to states when children begin school, they cannot mandate when children should begin preparing for school.
"No state has ever expressed a right to control how a child gets ready to be educated. … If our courts allow this, it would be one of the biggest transfers of power from parents to the state," said Scott Woodruff, an attorney for the group.
The Compulsory School Attendance Amendment Act of 2001, introduced last June by D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous, Ward 7 Democrat, requires all children who turn 3 before Dec. 31 of an academic year to enroll in pre-school programs in public, private or parochial school.
The bill has the support of seven council members, schools Superintendent Paul L. Vance and D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams.
Mr. Woodruff, who spoke this week at a town hall meeting on the bill, said it would open the doors for the state to control the lives of children from the time they are born.
Mr. Chavous, who chairs the council's education committee, says he does not see any constitutional issues with the bill. He says there is a need to help disadvantaged children in the city.
A report released by the Commission on Primary Education Reform, which Mr. Chavous appointed to come up with guidelines for the bill, suggested that instead of making early childhood education mandatory, universal access to such programs should be provided.
"Universal access can keep the dialogue going about whether the program should be made mandatory," said Jane Smith, who chaired the commission. She said commission members believe a pilot program would allow parents and educators to see how it works.
"We could be the number one urban school district if you design this program to be seriously academic."
Mary Filardo, director of the 21st Century School Fund, which studies the District's public school facilities, said the plan would require thousands of square feet of space in schools.
"While some schools have space, others are already overcrowded," she said.
In New Jersey, where the courts have mandated pre-kindergarten programs, schools had set up classrooms in parking lots and playgrounds, according to Miss Filardo.
School board member William Lockridge shares her concern and said he worries about the effect on the schools budget.
Mr. Chavous has promised additional funding for the program.
"All these issues will have to be addressed head-on," he said.
Mr. Chavous argues that because children enter first grade with different levels of knowledge, mandating early childhood programs would better prepare disadvantaged children for school.
"There is a real correlation between whether or not children come to school ready to learn and the chance of success they have," he said.


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