Del Mar keeps eye on governor’s universal TK proposal

Del Mar Union School District administration office.
Del Mar Union School District administration office.
(Staff photo)

With his May budget revision, Governor Gavin Newsom announced a $20 billion investment in “the total transformation of schools as gateways to equity and opportunity.”

His education proposal, the highest level of state school funding in California history, includes plans for universal transitional kindergarten for all 4-year-olds by 2024. Currently, transitional kindergarten is offered only to children who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2. Starting in 2022-23, it will be expanded in annual increments, first to children turning 5 by March 2, then in 2023-24 for birthdays by July 2 and finally in 2024-25 for full implementation at an additional annual cost of $2.7 billion.

“We’re doing more than just fully reopening for the upcoming school year, we’re proposing historic investments in public schools to create new opportunities for every student, especially for our neediest students, so that every child can thrive, regardless of their race or zip code,” Newsom said in a news release.

Assembly Bill 22, currently on the assembly floor, aligns with the governor’s plan for early learning. The legislation proposes to extend universal access to full-day TK programs to all 4-year-olds statewide at no cost to families, addressing social-emotional and early academic development, lowering staff to student ratios and creating a standard curriculum that bridges the gap between preschool and kindergarten.

Currently TK is offered in 99% of public schools in California. Of the 129 basic aid elementary school districts in the state, those that are funded solely by property tax revenue, 11 don’t offer TK and five of them are in San Diego County. TK is not offered in the Del Mar, Encinitas, Cardiff, Rancho Santa Fe and Solana Beach school districts.

The current California Education Code law is written to say that school districts shall admit pupils into TK “as a condition of receipt of apportionment”. The Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD), as a community-funded school district, has stated as they do not receive state funding for TK, they are not required to provide it.

DMUSD Superintendent Holly McClurg said districts like Del Mar are advocating for the governor’s proposal not to be an unfunded mandate. On May 25, the Association of California School Administrators, California Association of School Business Officials, California School Boards Association and Schools For Sound Finance sent a letter to legislators on behalf of the DMUSD and other community-funded districts.

The letter requested that the funding mechanism for universal TK provide the same resources to basic aid school districts as state-funded school districts.

“The proposal would provide TK learning opportunities for three times as many students as are currently eligible over a short period of time. When TK was created, community-funded school districts received zero additional dollars for the program and therefore had to absorb the additional cost by redirecting funds from existing programs,” the letter stated. “An expansion of TK for a full 12 months of students would be an insurmountable burden on any district if adequate resources are not provided.”

During a TK discussion last month, DMUSD Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Cathy Birks, said expanding to 12-months of eligibility, the TK program would cost $5.6 million a year, assuming 25 classrooms, 26 teachers and 26 aids (meeting AB22’s proposed staffing ratios of 20 students to two adults and 24 students to three adults).

Birks said funding a TK program would come at a cost to district priorities such as small class sizes, STEAM + programming, the world language program, the new Pacific Sky School and increasing pension costs.

Looking at the district’s enrollment projections and the available birth data, 560 students would be eligible for TK 2021-22, 625 in 2022-23 and 596 in 2023-24.

DMUSD Trustee Katherine Fitzpatrick, a strong advocate for TK, has questioned the district’s projected costs and at the May 26 meeting requested to see specific details on the potential TK budget presented at the next board meeting on June 30. She also requested that the formation of an Early Childhood Education Committee be placed on the agenda.

“I want us to really recognize what’s happening in the state and be proactive,” said Fitzpatrick, adding that a committee could look at all that would be incorporated in a TK program. “We need to be proactive in advocating for funding, reaching out to the community to see if it is a budget priority and acknowledge that not offering this program to 4 year olds is really doing a disservice to the children in our community.”

Per the board bylaws, any board member or member of the public may request an agenda item and the board president and superintendent can decide to place it on the agenda. While it is not included in the bylaws, DMUSD President Erica Halpern said she was advised by counsel that two other board members need to agree to place an item on the agenda. None of the other board members supported Fitzpatrick’s request so it was not placed on the June 30 agenda.

Board member Scott Wooden said the TK funding could be addressed when they discuss and approve the budget at the June 30 meeting. Clerk Gee Wah Mok asked if there were some way for Fitzpatrick to get her questions answered but according to Halpern and McClurg, it would take away from staff time to do any further analysis than what was presented at the last meeting.

Fitzpatrick was frustrated and stated she took issue with that explanation: “I have a fiduciary responsibility to ask these questions and if the numbers don’t add up or aren’t consistent, those are questions I should be asking.”