The term instills fear into parents that take education for granted. However, compulsory education is simply the legal term that requires parents to enroll their children in public, private, or parochial schools for a legally mandated period. Each state establishes the beginning and ending age for children required to attend school. Although the United States Department of Education has some legal influence on compulsory education policies, states typically create the legal boundaries for children attending school. For example, some parental legal rights and obligations under compulsory education laws derive from United States Supreme Court decisions.
Compulsory education law spans several centuries and covers most cultures. Plato’s often referred to Republic introduced the concept of mandatory education for citizens of the ancient Roman era. Aztecs lived under one of the first compulsory education laws during the 15th and 16th centuries. Massachusetts enacted the first compulsory education law within the United States in 1852, which set the legal standard on how to integrate immigrant children to the United States education system, while preventing the practice of child labor.
Although states have the legal flexibility to adopt unique compulsory education laws, the requirement that students attend public, private, or parochial schools remains similar between the states. Compulsory education laws are similar mostly because states want to avoid student flight from one state to another state. For example, Minnesota legislators write compulsory education laws that are similar to the laws enforced in Wisconsin to prevent students enrolled in the Minneapolis-St. Paul school system from taking advantage of more lenient school enrollment requirements in Wisconsin.
Every state sets minimum standards for age requirements under compulsory education law, with regulations put in place for homeschooling and private school enrollment exemptions. Although age requirements vary, the most typical age range for compulsory education is between six and 16 years. The penalty for non-compliance of compulsory education law is where states legally differ. Parents can face misdemeanor charges for not complying with state compulsory education laws, but the penalties vary among the states. Texas assigns an attendance officer to file criminal complaints against parents that fail to enroll their children in a public, private, or parochial school. The legal practice remains one of the most severe penalties for non-compliance of state compulsory education laws.
Most states have implemented compulsory education laws that provide exemptions for children. Homeschooled children do not have to enroll in a school created by public or private funding. However, most states require parents to report how they expect their children to be educated to ensure the parents comply with state compulsory education regulations. Children that suffer severe injuries or suffer from debilitating illnesses are also exempt from following state compulsory education laws. In some states, children are exempt from complying with compulsory education law because of religious reasons. Events that influence the lives of parents also play a role in compulsory education exemptions. Louisiana allows for a five-day excused school absence for children whose parent has received call for active military service overseas.
Here is a summary of compulsory education exemptions:
Parents that feel their children are exempt from state mandated compulsory education laws should contact a licensed attorney who specializes in education law. Most experienced education law attorneys offer a free initial consultation.