CHICAGO – Illinois will lower the required age that students must attend school under legislation signed Sunday by Gov. Pat Quinn.
The law, which takes effect in the 2014-15 school year, lowers the compulsory age from 7 to 6, a move state officials said puts Illinois in line with about half of U.S. states.
“It’s all about getting an early start on education,” Quinn said at an elementary school on the city’s West Side.
He spoke a day before hundreds of thousands of Chicago Public Schools students are expected to start the first day of classes.
Quinn and one of the bill’s sponsors, Chicago Democrat Rep. LaShawn Ford, credited the Chicago Tribune’s series last year on truancy and absenteeism as a trigger for the bill.
Earlier this year, state lawmakers created a task force to examine the issue.
According to the new law, any student turning 6 years old on or before Sept. 1 must be enrolled to attend school for that school year.
Initially, backers had wanted to lower the age to 5, as the District of Columbia does, but that idea was later scrapped.
Opponents, including, Republicans, had questioned the cost of the change. State officials have estimated that lowering the age would cost roughly $28 million.
Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, said Sunday that the overall societal benefits of educating children outweighed the costs.
Proponents included the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.