A win for Transitional Kindergarten

03.14.2012 | Thoughts on Public Education | Kathryn Baron

Gov. Brown’s latest proposal to eliminate Transitional Kindergarten hit a wall yesterday in the state Assembly. By a 3-to-1 vote along party lines, the budget subcommittee on education finance rejected the governor’s plan.

“Eliminating the TK mandate would be a huge step backward for the state and early education,” said subcommittee chair Susan Bonilla, a Contra Costa County Democrat, citing research on the benefits of giving not quite five-year-olds
a year of kindergarten readiness. “We expect to see lower retention
rates, less remediation, fewer special education placements, and higher
test scores,” she said.

State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), who introduced
the bill that created TK in 2010, said the action by the subcommittee
sends a strong message that he hopes will “reduce the level of anxiety
among parents and district administrators throughout the state” who have
been left with great uncertainty about the future of the program.

Ever since Gov. Brown released his first budget plan for 2012-13,
he’s been floating various proposals to get rid of TK, making it
something of a moving target that has changed from week to week.

As a result, some districts have held off on planning for TK or
enrolling students for next year’s program out of concern that the state
won’t fund the program.

I’m confused and frustrated because the district keeps saying TK is
coming, but doesn’t say when,” Elizabeth Ruiz, a registered nurse and
the mother of twins in the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School
District, told members of the subcommittee, struggling through a bout
of laryngitis. Her children turn four in October and will miss the new
kindergarten cutoff by nine days. Unless her district implements TK,
Ruiz said, she’ll have to keep the twins at home for a year, under her
mother’s care. “I cannot afford $1600 a month for private preschool,”
explained Ruiz.

Nearly two dozen parents, teachers, child care workers, and advocates
packed the small hearing room to testify. All but the private child care providers urged the panel to keep the TK law intact.

Tuesday’s vote spelled relief for parents Jennifer Roggia and Melissa
Vernon, who each has a son in a pilot TK program run by Gilroy Unified
School District. Each mom has younger children and feared the district would end the pilot if the governor’s trailer bill succeeded.

Both said their boys have matured socially and academically after just a few months in the program.

“Unless you have a child in the program or have a child that age you don’t understand,” said Roggia. “We see the benefits in our kids.”

Vernon agreed. Now that her son has adjusted to the social world of
school, he’s starting to learn academics, like basic math. She sees TK
as a question of equity for families like hers and Ruiz’s who can’t
afford private preschool and don’t qualify for a state subsidy. “Each
kid deserves the same starting point,” said Vernon. (Picture of parents here.)

Now that the governor’s proposal is off
the table in the Assembly, it heads to the state Senate. If it dies
there, it’s a good bet that TK will survive. However, the governor co
still include another variation in his May revise budget plan, or try
to get it reconsidered when the budget goes to the conference committee,
said a spokesperson for Sue Burr, Gov. Brown’s key education adviser.

Sen. Simitian suggested that two thumbs down in the state Legislature should send a signal to the governor. “I would be pleased if the administration would withdraw the proposal.”

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