AUGUSTA — A measure that would let educators extend truancy enforcement rules to 5- and 6-year-old students enrolled in public school is heading to Gov. Paul LePage’s desk, where its fate is uncertain at best.

The bill, which secured final passage Tuesday in a unanimous Senate vote, aims to ensure that enrolled youngsters show up for class. Truancy rules in place now only begin at age 7.

“It’s not enough to start caring about students’ academic success when they turn 7 years old. Our obligation to students must begin the moment they enter public school,” said Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston.

Libby said in a prepared statement that his bill “will ensure that if a parent decides to enroll their child in school, that child won’t fall through the cracks. It gives schools the tools they need to work with families to identify obstacles to attendance, and resolve them.”

In 2015, LePage vetoed a similar bill, commenting at the time, that he couldn’t back a law “that would interfere with the rights of parents to decide when their children are ready for school. This bill marks an invasion of the government into family matters.”

The governor said then the state “should focus on investing in our classrooms and our teachers” and inspiring students to learn “rather than sending out truancy officers to round up” youngsters who may not be ready.

LePage has 10 days to sign the bill into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

The proposal was spurred in part by Lewiston’s problems keeping its youngest students in school. Its superintendent, Bill Webster, told lawmakers that one 6-year-old missed over 50 days of school last year and 25 percent of Lewiston pre-kindergarten students are chronically absent, along with 20 percent of kindergartners and 15 percent of first graders.

Webster testified that parents who can’t do better “are likely sealing the fate of their children to be not only unsuccessful in school but also unsuccessful in life. In fact, the low graduation rate at Lewiston High School is significantly impacted by dropouts who developed poor school attendance habits in elementary school.”

But perhaps foreshadowing LePage’s decision, Angel Martinez Loredo, team leader for higher education and certification at the state Department of Education, told legislators his department opposed Libby’s proposal.

“Courts have recognized that parents have the right to make decisions regarding their child’s education,” he said, and his department “believes that parents should retain the right to decide for themselves whether their child should be enrolled in school before the age of compulsion.”

Loredo urged the Legislature to consider incentives to help convince parents to get their young children to school rather than trying to compel them.

Libby’s proposal does not cover parents who home school their children. It also includes a provision that guarantees parents can opt to unenroll their 5- or 6-year-old from public school by submitting a letter to the school’s superintendent.

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