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Big boost for early education

04.13.2012 | The San Mateo Daily Journal | Heather Murtagh

State officials from both Assembly and Senate subcommittees have rejected Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to eliminate a program to offer transitional kindergarten to children who turn 5 late this year.

Under the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, authored by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, students must be 5 years old to start kindergarten. Starting this year, the deadline to turn 5 will slowly be moved up from Dec. 1 to Sept. 1. An additional year of transitional kindergarten, called TK, was supposed to be offered for children with birthdays after the new deadlines — the new program called for state funding. That funding is in limbo as Brown’s budget proposal calls to cut $223.7 million which would result in the elimination of transitional kindergarten.

In March, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance rejected the plan. On Thursday, the California State Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee on Education followed by also rejecting the proposal. Now, legislators will wait until the May revise to see if the votes supporting the program are enough to eliminate it from the budget cut conversation.

“It’s important to underscore with transitional kindergarten, we’re not talking about serving any new children. We’re talking about serving the same group of children who for the last 60 years have been eligible to start school if they turn 5 by Dec. 2,” said Simitian in a prepared statement. “If we go down this path, the governor’s proposal will result in the largest disenfranchisement of public school students in the history of the country.”

Many early education supporters have argued the governor cannot simply cut the budget for transitional kindergarten as it’s currently required by law. Instead, the law would need to be changed by a vote of both houses of the California Legislature. With that logic, and the most recent votes, one could argue the transitional kindergarten program will most likely move forward in the state.

A number of districts have encouraged families to continue to register for the program even as its future has been in limbo.

The transitional kindergarten question is compounded by possible cuts to state-funded child-care programs like preschool. Should districts decide not to offer transitional kindergarten, parents of those children could desire another year of preschool. Cuts to child care will then mean more children signing up for fewer spots.

Across the state, many educational leaders have spoken out against cutting the transitional kindergarten program. Early education advocates argue the proposed cut would be a step back in the effort to better prepare children for school. Preschool California estimates cutting funds could delay access to education for 125,000 California students. In the San Mateo County legislative districts, the cuts could impact 8,463, according to Preschool California.

Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: heather@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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