State politics leaves young kindergartners in limbo

By Marsha Sutton

Legislation requiring public schools to offer a pre-kindergarten class this fall for “young fives” — and California Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to override the law — has given many school districts a case of whiplash with the on-again, off-again debate.

Learning last year that Brown wanted to eliminate the requirement, many districts put their plans for transitional kindergarten, or TK, on hold. But last week, California’s Assembly budget committee solidly rejected Brown’s plan to eliminate the requirement for TK and stood behind the law as written.

Transitional kindergarten is part of a larger bill known as the Kindergarten Readiness Act, which passed in 2010 and advances the date by which children must turn 5 to start kindergarten. The law, Senate Bill 1381, takes effect this fall, when the cutoff date will be Nov. 1. In 2013, the date will be Oct. 1. And in 2014, the date by which children must be 5 to enter kindergarten will be Sept. 1, where it will remain. Prior California law stated that children must turn 5 by Dec. 2 to enter kindergarten.

SB-1381, sponsored by state Sen. Joe Simitian, includes a mandate for California school districts to develop and implement a transitional kindergarten program for children with fall birthdays who will be too young to start kindergarten once the law kicks in.

According to Simitian’s office, TK will “improve the pre-first-grade preparation for those fall birthday children who would otherwise be the youngest in their class. This is especially important for low-income and English language learner children, who often receive less academic preparation. Transitional kindergarten will provide a two-year preparation for first grade while reducing the likelihood of retention after a year of traditional kindergarten.”

This year, the law requires public school districts to offer a TK program for children turning 5 in November. Next year the requirement for TK is for October and November birthdays, and the following year for September, October and November birthdays.

“When we heard about it originally, obviously we started preparing for it,” said Holly McClurg, assistant superintendent of instructional services for the Del Mar Union School District. “When we knew that the governor had eliminated TK from his proposed budget, that put things on hold for us.”

The Solana Beach School District likewise shelved its plans for TK after hearing last year that the governor was opposing it. The SBSD Web site, as of press time, states: “Currently, the Solana Beach School District has no plans to offer a transitional kindergarten program.”

However, SBSD superintendent Leslie Fausset said the district will follow the law and provide a TK program this fall if required. “There’s been confusion about whether you’re required to do it,” she said. “Clearly if we’re required, we will do it.”

Districts caught off-guard

The law mandates that the savings from having fewer children in kindergarten be used to fund a transitional kindergarten program.

But, according to a Jan. 5, 2012 bulletin from School Services of California, the governor’s proposed 2012-2013 budget did not including funding for TK. “At this time, it is not likely that the transitional kindergarten program will be funded for 2012-13,” the report concluded.

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