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Lower kindergarten age among new Illinois laws

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Among several new laws effective in Illinois this week is a requirement that children attend kindergarten at a younger age, a shift that state officials say could mean higher costs for an already underfunded school system.

Most of the new measures that went into effect Tuesday deal with youths and schools.

One requires young adults seeking driver's licenses to take a training course. Another, prompted by the death of a high school girl during drill team practice, requires students to learn emergency life-saving skills.

Children must now enter kindergarten by the time they are 6 years old. The previous requirement was 7 years old.

The change puts Illinois in line with most other states, according to a news release from Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat who sponsored the legislation. She pushed for the measure because - though most children already start school before age 7 - those who don't are falling behind their peers.

Critics, however, derided the change as an unfunded mandate by the state while school funding is tight. Illinois hasn't been able to fully fund the state aid it has promised to schools over the last several years.

"This will cost the state more money because you'll have more kids at a younger age in school. We are having a hard time right now paying for the education that we already have," Okawville Republican Sen. David Luechtefeld said.

Illinois state Board of Education officials say possible increased costs are hard to estimate.

The agency doesn't know how many children will be affected by the law or if they'll need more funding based on lower family income levels, spokeswoman Mary Fergus said.

Craig Kujawa, superintendent of Bethel school district in Mount Vernon, said that while his school would not see a huge change, larger districts might.

"You could have tremendous amounts of additional costs if you have to have additional sections of classes," Kujawa said.

High school students are now required to learn CPR and how to operate a heart defibrillator called an AED. The legislation was pushed by George Laman, a paramedic whose daughter had a heart condition. She collapsed and died during a drill team practice at a suburban Chicago high school in 2008. Officials say an AED was available at the school but not used until paramedics arrived. Laman believes his daughter's would have survived if someone knew how to use the machine.

In addition, people ages 18 to 21 will now have to pass a six-hour driver's education course before receiving a license. The previous law allowed adults to receive licenses without training.

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