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Brown administration modifies budget proposal on transitional kindergarten

02.02.2012 | EdSource | Louis Freedberg

In response to concerns expressed by school officials, the Brown
administration has amended its 2012–13 budget proposal to allow
districts to enroll thousands of children in kindergarten who will still
be 4 years old in November if their districts grant them a special
waiver.

In line with Governor Brown’s push to give greater control to local
government, and limit state mandates, Department of Finance officials
said districts will also be allowed to run a separate “transitional
kindergarten” program for 4-year-olds, but it wouldn’t be mandated by
the state.

“Given the state’s fiscal circumstances, this is not the time to
initiate a new program with significant costs, recognizing that there is
a mechanism whereby a child under 5 can still be enrolled,” Department
of Finance spokesperson H.D. Palmer said.

However, it is far from clear whether Brown’s new proposal will
clarify the confusion over the future of transitional kindergarten.

State Senator Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, the author of legislation
requiring districts to begin providing transitional kindergarten this
fall, expressed deep unhappiness with the administration’s new plan,
describing it as “chaos in the making.” “More and more districts are
perplexed about what the proposal is, and are stymied over what they
should be doing,” he said.  ”School districts are getting whipsawed from
proposals from the administration and their understanding that
transitional kindergarten is law.”

This is precisely the time that many parents are signing up their
children for fall kindergarten. Yet officials in 12 of the state’s
largest districts contacted by EdSource last week, before Brown’s latest
proposals were announced this week, indicated a wide range of responses
to the transitional kindergarten dilemma. Some were going ahead with
the program, no matter what, while some had made no decision of any
kind. Others had put their plans on hold, pending the required
legislative action. Yet others had decided to cancel the program, on the
assumption that Brown’s plan would prevail.

In his January budget, Gov. Brown proposed cancelling the implementation of transitional kindergarten this fall, saying the state couldn’t afford it.

One fallout from Brown’s proposal was that some 40,000 children who
would normally have attended kindergarten this fall might have been
barred from attending any kindergarten program, whether transitional or
traditional.

In an interview with EdSource yesterday, Department of Finance
officials said under the revised legislation Brown sent to the
Legislature this week—the so-called “trailer bill” to his January
budget—parents will be able to enroll their children in kindergarten by
applying for special waivers from school districts. They emphasized that
is something parents with children who are younger than 5 are allowed
to do under current law.

The proposals, contained in Section 14 of the trailer bill,
allow districts to grant waivers “on a case-by-case basis.” The state
would reimburse school districts for the costs of educating them based
on the number of children in “average daily attendance,” including
4-year-olds.  Officials said school districts would still have the
option of running a transitional kindergarten if they chose to, but
their assumption is that the “great majority” of school districts would
not do so.

The program, which was mandated by legislation (Senate Bill 1381)
was supposed to be phased in over the next three years, so that
eventually only children who had turned 5 by Sept. 1 would be allowed to
enroll in kindergarten. Those turning 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2,
would be enrolled in transitional kindergarten classes, and then be
allowed to enroll in regular kindergarten the following school year.

The amended proposal also raises major questions as to whether
anywhere close to the $223 million that Brown’s budget projected would
actually be saved by cancelling the program. The only way that amount
would be saved would be if all 40,000 children estimated to be 4 in
November did not attend kindergarten for the entire school year. Even
under Brown’s original proposal, children had a right to enroll in
regular kindergarten when they turned 5, even if that was after the
beginning of the school year.

Officials said it was impossible to say how much would be saved by
cancelling transitional kindergarten as a state mandate, and that a new
figure on projected savings would be contained in the governor’s May
revision of his budget.

Even before Brown’s latest proposal, officials at a dozen of the
state’s largest school districts contacted by EdSource indicated a wide
range of responses to the governor’s proposal to cancel the program.

Some school districts, such as Lodi Unified, were taking a
wait-and-see attitude. Mount Diablo Unified in Concord is doing a cost
analysis of its various options and will consider the issue at its Feb. 6
board meeting. Capistrano Unified has not yet made any decision.

Several school districts, such as San Bernardino and Chino, were
going to go ahead with transitional kindergarten “contingent on
funding.” Long Beach Unified and Twin Rivers Unified near Sacramento
indicated that they were going to have a transitional program, one way
or another.

“If transitional kindergarten doesn’t happen next year, our district
will explore other options to provide education to children turning 5
between Nov. 2 and Dec. 2,” said Trinette Marquis, the district’s
director of communication. Marquis said the district would continue its
KinderPrep program for children who turn 5 after the kindergarten
cut-off date.

Only three out of the 13 districts—San Francisco, Anaheim City and
Garden Grove—that responded to EdSource said they were not going to
provide transitional kindergarten at all.

Anaheim City had been planning to provide transitional kindergarten
for some 600 students at a cost of $3 million, but the program is now
“on hold,” according to spokesperson Peter Daniel.

Many uncertainties remain. For that reason, School Services of
California, Inc., a leading California consulting firm, is recommending
that districts continue to plan for some kind of transitional
kindergarten in the fall.

“Since it is unclear whether the Legislature will adopt the
governor’s proposal, districts will want to plan for some level of
program with a reduced level of resources,” advised School Services’
Jeff Bell and Michael Ricketts. “However, it would also be prudent to
make the appropriate considerations and notifications for potential
staffing reductions should the governor’s proposal be adopted and
resources be constrained.”

For background to this controversy,  check out the transitional kindergarten tab on EdSource Extra.

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