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Michigan lawmakers consider making kindergarten mandatory

 Child wearing a backpack ready for the first day of kindergarten
The Senate Education Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 285 Tuesday, March 12, 2024. The bill would make kindergarten mandatory. (iStock photo by nicoletaionescu)
  • Current Michigan law does not require that students attend kindergarten 
  • A Democratic-sponsored bill would make kindergarten mandatory
  • Republicans on the Senate Education Committee say they are generally supportive of requiring kindergarten

Michigan lawmakers are considering a bill that would require students to attend kindergarten.

Senate Bill 285 would mandate that, beginning with the 2025-2026 school year, a child who is at least 5 years old on September 1 be enrolled in kindergarten and that all public schools that offer first grade offer kindergarten.


Bill sponsor Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, told Senate Education Committee members Tuesday that as the state moves toward universal preschool, “it doesn’t make sense that kids skip kindergarten.”

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


Polehanki’s legislation has been sitting in committee for nearly a year as the panel focused on other issues. Tuesday’s hearing came as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is urging the state to fund universal preschool for all 4-year-olds.

Other Michigan lawmakers have proposed mandatory kindergarten before.

Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said Tuesday that he believes making kindergarten mandatory would decrease absenteeism and increase student achievement. 

He said that 6% of district students enter kindergarten at or above grade level standards and 58% of kindergarten students leave kindergarten performing at grade level standards. 

How many people are choosing to not attend kindergarten? 

The state does not have an official number but some estimates can be made. 

It’s unclear how many students are eligible to attend kindergarten right now but are not currently attending. Some parents may choose to wait until their children turn 6 before sending them to school, others may enroll them in a private school or homeschool their children.

During the 2022-2023 school year, there were 113,864 kindergarten students enrolled in Michigan public schools. Census data from 2022 shows 116,348 5-year-olds in the state.

Michigan law requires students to attend public school but students are exempt from the requirement if they are homeschooled or attend a private school. 

The state has enrollment counts for traditional public schools, charter schools and some private schools but does not have a system of counting homeschool students. Some Democrats have indicated that they support creating a homeschool registry system but a bill has not yet been introduced. 

Polehanki said her kindergarten bill is “simply meant to catch those falling through the cracks and not enrolling in school until first grade.

“We do not anticipate a barrage in enrollment as a result,” she said. 

Does this affect homeschool students?

Sen. John Damoose, R-Harbor Springs, told Bridge Michigan he supports requiring kindergarten but wants to get more information on how this bill affects, if at all, parents’ rights to homeschool their children. 

Polehanki said the bill would not eliminate parents’ ability to homeschool their children or send their children to private school. 


Sheryl Kennedy, legislative liaison for the Michigan Department of Education, said the department believes school “should typically begin at 4 and every 5-year-old should be enrolled in a kindergarten program.”

How much would it cost? 

If enacted, the legislation would increase costs for the state, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency. 

The costs would depend on how many additional students chose to attend public schools.

The agency used first-grade student counts as a proxy for kindergarten counts and estimates that a kindergarten requirement would increase the state’s student count by about 4,500 students. If each student currently generates $9,608 in state funding for the school district, that would be an increase of about $43 million.  

Reporter Mike Wilkinson contributed.

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