Press Release: As School Starts, California Launches Its First New Grade Level in More Than a Century

08.14.2012 | Senator Simitian

Simitian will appear at the first day of TK in San Jose on August 20

SACRAMENTO – As the school year begins, districts throughout California will begin offering transitional kindergarten (TK) – the first new grade level in the state since 1891.

This school year, more than 800 school districts are expected to offer transitional kindergarten, the first year of a two-year kindergarten for children with fall birthdays who will be too young under a new cutoff date to enter regular kindergarten. Approximately 40,000 California students will be offered the developmentally appropriate curriculum in more than 2,000 classrooms. An estimated 125,000 California children will be eligible for transitional kindergarten annually once the program is fully phased in over the next three years.

“These are tough economic times, and school budgets have been cut to the bone. Transitional kindergarten is one of the few bright spots on the educational horizon,” said State Senator Joe Simitian, the author of the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, which changed the kindergarten entry age and created transitional kindergarten. “It will get kids off to a strong start at no additional cost to the state. I’m excited for what this opportunity will mean for our kids, our teachers, our schools, and for California.”

“Transitional kindergarten is one of the most exciting and innovative educational reforms we’ve seen in California in decades,” said Catherine Atkin, president of Preschool California. “It will ensure that California’s youngest kindergarteners are ready to succeed, and translate into huge payoffs for academic success.”

As a result of the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, authored by Simitian, the age for kindergarten eligibility is moving to five years old by September 1st, phasing in a month at a time over three years, beginning this school year. Previously, California allowed new kindergarten students to be five years old by December 2 of the school year, one of just four states in the nation to do so. All districts are required to offer transitional kindergarten this year, but attendance by children is voluntary, as kindergarten attendance is. Although some districts have already had two-year kindergarten programs, the majority of districts will be starting the TK grade level for the first time this school year.

Transitional kindergarten will be offered at no immediate additional cost to the state, because funding that would have been used to support young five year olds in kindergarten will be redirected to support those same children now in TK. Transitional kindergarten does not add more children to a school; the total number of children served remains the same. Existing teachers and classroom facilities will be used.

“Transitional kindergarten will help children, families, and educators experience the best possible entrance to school,” said Ada Hand, president of the California Kindergarten Association. “Even children who are intellectually and developmentally ready but not mature or emotionally prepared can find kindergarten a challenge.”

“Today’s kindergarten classroom is a much different place than many of us experienced when we were growing up,” Simitian said. “We’re placing rigorous academic demands on these kids, and the youngest are struggling to catch up. Evidence shows that giving these ‘young fives’ the gift of time can make a big different in their long-term success. The fact that we’re able to do this at no immediate cost to the state is a real bonus in these challenging economic times.”

Simitian was prompted to take up the cause of changing the kindergarten enrollment age when two teachers in his Senate district – kindergarten teacher Diana Argenti and reading specialist Natalie Bivas – presented him with a petition, signed by 289 teachers, requesting the September 1 cutoff date.

Research indicates that beginning school at an older age improves children’s social and academic development.

Based on these benefits, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, the California Performance Review, and the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence each called for an earlier kindergarten cut-off date.

In his signing statement to the bill, then-Gov. Schwarzenegger said, “SB 1381 is a landmark accomplishment for early childhood developmental education in California, and I’m proud to sign this important legislation. The best investment we can make in the future of our state is to provide a quality education to California’s children, and this legislation ensures that their academic careers are built on a strong foundation. I commend Senator Joe Simitian for authoring SB 1381 and for his steadfast dedication to California’s students.”

The last time a new grade level was created in California was in 1891, when kindergarten was adopted into state law.


WHAT: State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), author of the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, which created transitional kindergarten, will begin visits to TK classrooms by attending the first day of TK at George Miner Elementary School in San Jose.

WHERE: George Miner Elementary School, 5629 Lean Avenue, San Jose, CA

WHEN: 9 a.m. August 20

Media should check-in at the office upon arrival.

For more information, visit See the attachment below for a history of kindergarten in California. For a Rand study on the benefits of entering kindergarten later, see this link:


History of Kindergarten in California

The following kindergarten timeline is largely based on excerpts from a 2001 report entitled History and Development of Kindergarten in California written by Patricia L. de Cos at the request of the Joint Legislative Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education – Kindergarten Through University. 

*Patricia de Cos currently serves as Deputy Executive Director of the California State Board of Education.


California’s first private kindergarten was established in San Francisco. 

An advertisement for the kindergarten appeared in two leading newspapers at the time proclaiming that, “French is regularly taught with English in the school, and all the methods are such as to combine pleasure and exercise with instruction.”


California enacted its first law regarding kindergarten (Chapter 129, Statutes of 1891, Political Code §1617).  This law allowed children’s admission to school at the age of four in cities and towns in which kindergarten had been adopted as part of the public primary schools. 

It sought to lead children gently “over the threshold of learning by the seductive charm of music, flowers, games, pictures, and curious objects.”


The California Supreme Court ruled that city boards of education were authorized to establish kindergartens as part of a system of primary education and to use common school funds for that purpose.


The California Supreme Court reversed its 1895 ruling and opined that kindergartens could not be considered part of the common school system for the purpose of providing State funding.  However, the court allowed cities to support kindergartens as part of local primary schools, with the condition that sources of funding other than the State were used.

By 1901, there were public school kindergartens in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, San Diego, and San Jose.


The School Law specified a two-year limit on kindergarten attendance, and established the age of admission:

… [public schools] may allot not more than two years for kindergarten instruction … where kindergarten instruction is given in the schools of a district, such school shall admit children to the kindergarten classes at four years of age; and the reports for the kindergarten classes shall be kept and shall be made separate from other school reports …


The California Congress of Mothers initiated a successful campaign to establish and maintain kindergarten as part of the public school system when supported by petition and a local tax.  This law was enacted in 1913 and permitted the establishment of a kindergarten class through a petition of parents or guardians of 25 or more children residing within one mile of an elementary school building, and provided that the school district could ensure and account for at least ten children in average daily attendance. 


The State permitted school districts to levy a district tax to support the establishment and maintenance of kindergartens.  Between 1914 and 1918, forty-five California cities and towns embraced these laws. 

By 1918, California was ranked ninth nationwide in the number of children aged four to six enrolled in public kindergartens.


Amendments to §1617 of the Political Code (the original kindergarten statute from 1891) also raised the minimum age for children entering kindergarten to four and a half years.


A constitutional amendment was enacted (Proposition 16, November 2, 1920) that redefined the state school system by including kindergarten schools as eligible for State funding.


A “Kindergarten Bill” proposed raising the entrance age into kindergarten to age five.  Governor James Rolf vetoed the measure, he stated:

.  .  .  The opponents of the bill contend that the measure, if signed by me, will affect adversely the entire educational system of California.

I am convinced that the training and environment of the kindergarten has become an important factor in primary education, and primary education is recognized to be the most essential element of an educational system.  As stated by one educator, “the kindergarten is more important than the university.” It is in the kindergarten that the children are of the age when they are most impressionable, and receive their first directed training in social values, language, habits and character.

Parents and educators alike agree that an age of four and one-half years is a desirable age at which children should begin to receive the benefits a kindergarten offers, for it is upon the training received at this age that their future development in a large part depends.  .  . 

The Legislature subsequently overrode the Governor’s veto.  The Sacramento Bee described the action as providing savings of between $1 million and $1.5 million per year, which was a significant sum during the Depression.


The kindergarten entrance age law was modified to distinguish the entrance age for school districts that maintained either one or two school terms.  This law was later changed, in 1945, to establish a uniform procedure for admitting children into kindergarten for one and two term districts at the age of four years and six months.


The voters of California approved a constitutional amendment that provided state aid for kindergartens as part of the elementary school system.


The Education Code was amended to raise the entrance age for children entering kindergarten to four years and nine months (the equivalent of December 2nd) old by September 1.

In his letter to the Governor, State Superintendent Roy E. Simpson stated, “I cannot support a measure which will curtail any type of educational service unless an equivalent or superior service is offered in lieu thereof.  This bill makes no provision for such equivalent or superior service.”


The Legislature made it mandatory for districts maintaining elementary schools to incorporate kindergarten programs for all eligible children who presented themselves for enrollment.


Governor Reagan signed a law that authorized governing boards of school districts maintaining one or more kindergartens to admit to kindergarten a five-year old child at any time during the school year with the approval of a parent or guardian.  This was in response to the restrictive nature of the preceding law, which did not permit children to be admitted to kindergarten if their birthdates were after the cutoff date (four years and nine months by September 1).


The Legislature modified the entrance age policy to allow children to enter kindergarten as long as they had attained their fifth birthday on or before December 2.  This amendment specified the date by which children had to be five years of age in order to attend kindergarten.


Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010 (Simitian, Chapter 705, Statutes of 2010) to change the kindergarten entry-age from five years old by December 2 to five years old by September 1.  For those “young fives” (children turning five from September 2 – December 2) whose kindergarten would be delayed by the new cut-off date, the bill created a transitional kindergarten program to build a bridge between early learning and kindergarten using a modified kindergarten curriculum that is age and developmentally appropriate.

In his signing statement, Governor Schwarzenegger said, “SB 1381 is a landmark accomplishment for early childhood developmental education in California, and I’m proud to sign this important legislation. The best investment we can make in the future of our state is to provide a quality education to California’s children, and this legislation ensures that their academic careers are built on a strong foundation. I commend Senator Joe Simitian for authoring SB 1381 and for his steadfast dedication to California’s students.”

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