Parent working to bring transitional kindergarten back to Del Mar

Del Mar parent Katherine Fitzpatrick is leading an effort to make transitional kindergarten available to all students in California who are age-eligible. Fitzpatrick addressed the Del Mar Union School District board at its Jan. 17 meeting, requesting that the board develop a plan to bring transitional kindergarten back to Del Mar and work with the state legislature to make sure funding is available for implementation.

“I believe in the value of a quality education and every child deserves the opportunity to have one,” said Fitzpatrick, who has started a change.org petition and has gathered 69 signatures in support.

Transitional kindergarten (TK) is defined as the first year of a two-year kindergarten, using a modified kindergarten curriculum—it is not preschool nor is it a child development program. TK programs are required to be taught by a teacher who meets credentialing requirements.

An effort like Fitzpatrick is proposing has been attempted before: In 2014 Senate Bill 837 was proposed to make TK mandatory in the state, essentially adding a 13th year to the public school system, but it was defeated. The bill was later amended to target low-income families.

Fitzpatrick grew up in Del Mar and attended Del Mar Heights Elementary School as a child. The oldest of her two children is two and three-quarters — his birthday is Sept. 7. As she started mapping out when and where he would start public school in Del Mar, she was “disheartened” to find TK was no longer offered.

“I love this district and our schools. If we can figure out a way to make TK work in the budget, I think it would be great,” Fitzpatrick said. “I would also like the law to be more clearly defined, especially for those of us who want TK but are not being offered that choice.”

Starting in early December of last year, Fitzpatrick began doing her research, contacting her state and local representatives and setting up her online petition. In her research, she has found discrepancies in regard to the funding and offering of TK and became even more confused.

Fitzpatrick cites the California Department of Education which states “All LEAs (Local Educational Agencies) must offer TK and kindergarten classes for all age-eligible children to attend” and that "the laws apply equally to all districts, whether they receive state revenue limit funding or are basic aid."

Del Mar Union School District Assistant Superintendent Shelley Petersen, said there seems to be some misinterpretation of the law in this case.

“The law is written to say ‘as a condition of receipt of apportionment.’ if you have TK and receive funding for it, then you are required to provide it,” said Petersen, citing Education Code 48000. “We do not receive funding for TK so we are not required to provide it.”

None of the neighboring North County school districts offer TK, although all San Diego Unified School District schools do. Del Mar offered transitional kindergarten for only two years, following the passage of the Kindergarten Readiness Act (Senate Bill 1381) in September 2010 which changed the kindergarten entry date from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1 so all children would enter kindergarten at age 5. The legislation required districts to offer TK beginning in 2012-13 with the intention of easing the adjustment of the start dates that were rolled back an additional month every school year.

The first year the district offered TK it had eight students and the numbers rose to 75 TK students in 14-15.

“Because we don’t receive funds for TK, the cost of running the program came out of the general fund for K-6,” said Superintendent Holly McClurg. “Because the district doesn’t receive funds for it and because it had a negative impact on our K-6 program, the decision was made to discontinue TK.”

The last year the district offered TK was in 2014-15.

Petersen said it is difficult to put a dollar sign on what TK would cost the district—she said it would be dependent on the “relatively narrow” number of students that are eligible (a quarter of all students born in that same year) and would include the costs of staffing and related benefits, materials and facilities, which she said is a big challenge for all school districts with limited classroom space.

“It is hard to define what the cost would be, but it is very costly and it is as costly as the K-6 program,” Petersen said.

Fitzpatrick noted that the number of students eligible might not be as “narrow” as the Education Code states pupils who will turn 5 years old after the Dec. 2 cutoff date for TK may be permitted to attend TK at “any time during the school year, including at the beginning of the school year,” at the discretion of district. Per the code, the governing board must make a determination that early admittance is in the best interest of the child and must provide the child’s parent or guardian with information regarding the advantages and disadvantages of early admission to TK.

In regard to funding, Fitzpatrick has found some comparable basic aid elementary districts across the state that are “making it work,” including Belmont-Redwood Shores Elementary, Los Altos Elementary and Los Gatos Union Elementary Districts, as well as unified school districts in Beverly Hills, Carmel and Laguna Beach.

It is Fitzpatrick’s belief from her research that for funding purposes, TK is kindergarten and any funding the district receives, including local property taxes, should support TK.

“I believe the funding is there. And I believe children such as my son should be given the choice of attending this program because it is their constitutional right,” Fitzpatrick said. “I want my son to have every advantage that other kids in the same circumstances across the state are receiving.”

Visit Fitzpatrick’s change.org petition at http://chn.ge/2CGMqtD

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