Editorial: A better start for ‘young 5s’

09.07.2012 | San Francisco Chronicle

California’s new “transitional kindergarten” program, which is proving highly popular with parents and educators, almost did not happen. Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2012-13 budget would have diverted the $223 million to other programs. Fortunately, legislators stood their ground, and the state is moving forward with plans to gradually shift the cutoff date for kindergarten from December to Sept. 1.

Sen. Joe Simitian , D-Palo Alto, authored this 2010 measure in response to concerns from teachers that too many “young 5s” were not ready for school.

Under his bill, 4-year-olds who were shut out of kindergarten by the new date (they must be 5 by Nov. 1 this fall, the first year of the phase-in) could enroll in a “transitional kindergarten” program in public school. Best of all, Simitian ‘s bill gave districts great flexibility to design the programs to fit local needs and circumstances.

It’s important to note that the program does not add to the financial burden of districts because these are students who otherwise could have entered kindergarten. But the transitional kindergarten does produce indirect savings by reducing the chances that students who are ill-prepared for kindergarten later get held back a grade or end up in special education programs.

The new cutoff dates are hardly revolutionary. Most states have a Sept. 1 cutoff for kindergarten.

The reaction to the program – from districts, teachers, parents – has been positive. California should stay the course, and must continue to resist any shortsighted attempts to undercut this long-overdue change.

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