Top

Assembly panel restores funding to transitional kindergarten

03.14.2012 | SIA Cabinet Report | Kimberly Beltran

A
budget subcommittee moved Tuesday to reject Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to
cut funds for transitional kindergarten, a new program that would serve
students too young or unprepared for the first year of school.

The
Assembly’s subcommittee on education finance also voted to send the
governor’s plans to restructure how the state funds public schools
through Legislative policy committees for comprehensive review – instead
of through the budget process, as the governor had preferred.

In
releasing his 2012-13 budget in January, Brown proposed eliminating
transitional kindergarten to save $223.7 million. The governor also
proposed a ‘weighted pupil’ funding formula to replace the existing
school finance structure that critics had bemoaned for decades as overly
complex and bureaucratic.

But
the sweeping proposals repeatedly have run up against calls by
lawmakers and concerned members of the education community for greater
scrutiny and more thoughtful public consideration – especially when it
comes to transitioning from existing systems to something new.

Transitional kindergarten is a case in point.

As
it was repeatedly pointed out Tuesday, school districts up and down the
state are planning to start transitional kindergarten classes this
fall, since the program was approved by the Legislature and signed into
law by Brown in 2010.

“My
recommendation to reject the governor’s proposal around transitional
kindergarten is not to say that we don’t have budget problems,” said
Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, also chair of the subcommittee
and one of the three Democrats who voted to reject Brown’s plan. “But
here we have one program that without taking extra revenue brings
promise to California and to our children.”

In
recommending elimination of the pre-kindergarten program, Brown and his
Department of Finance calculated a budget savings of $223.7 million.

But
since releasing the budget, the administration has acknowledged that
actual savings could be less than half that amount, because districts
with declining enrollments will receive a one-year ‘hold harmless’
adjustment and will have the option to grant under-age children
admission to regular kindergarten if their parents request it.

“I
really challenge the debate around cost and savings on this issue,”
said Assemblyman Sandré Swanson, D-Oakland. “When you look at the fact
that you’re helping a child develop the skills to learn, you’re helping a
child develop socially and emotionally, all of which reduces the
possibility of that child ending up in the system somewhere later down
the road, then you see that the investment far outweighs what is being
called a ‘savings’ now.”

Scores
of parents and education advocates lined up – both inside the packed
hearing room and outside in hallways – to address the subcommittee on
transitional kindergarten and the weighted pupil funding formula, which
would remove spending restrictions on funds currently allocated for
specific programs, also known as ‘categoricals.’

The
new finance system would combine most of the remaining categorical
program funds with the unrestricted – or discretionary – funds districts
receive and apportion them first on a flat rate of $4,920 per student.

The
plan then contains formulas for awarding additional funds based on a
district’s population of needy students – generally English learners and
those who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

The
subcommittee heard from a panel of district superintendents who
testified that under the formula as proposed, their districts would be
out millions of dollars – a hit none of them can afford to take after
years of severe budget cuts to schools.

Others
spoke about the devastating impacts numerous programs would face if
categorical funds are converted to discretionary spending, because
districts likely would put those monies toward staff and salary
increases instead.

About
$2.8 billion in categorical spending are slated for flexible spending
under the governor’s proposal, including home-to-school transportation,
the Economic Impact Aid program and K-3 class-size reduction.

No Comments

Post a Comment