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Brown plan to delay “transitional kindergarten” triggers uncertainty in many school districts

01.27.2012 | EdSource | Louis Freedberg

Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal to delay implementation of
“transitional kindergarten” for 4-year-olds has triggered doubt and
confusion in many school districts around the state.

One district — San Francisco Unified School District  – has announced that it will not offer the program.  Preschool advocates believe it is the only one to have done so so far.

But several other districts contacted by EdSource, including some of
California’s largest, say they plan to offer the program, contingent on
legislative action in response to Brown’s proposal in his January
budget.

Long Beach Unified indicates it will offer the program no matter
what. Others like Lodi Unified will only do so depending on what happens
in Sacramento. Yet others like Capistrano Unified have yet to make a
decision.

Parents typically at this time of year sign up for kindergarten for
the fall — and now as a result of Brown’s proposal, for the parents of
the approximately 40,000 children who will still be 4-years-old in
November, there is uncertainty  as to what will be available for them.

The uncertainty is because the Legislature still has to take action
on Brown’s proposal — and Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, the lead
sponsor of the legislation (SB 1381) that created transitional
kindergarten,  is opposed to Brown’s plan to squelch the program for
budgetary reasons.

Transitional kindergarten was due to begin this fall. Under the law,
an estimated 40,000 students who were still 4 in November, and who would
normally have been allowed to enroll in regular kindergarten this fall,
would have the option of enrolling in transitional kindergarten, and
then in regular kindergarten next year.

According to the legislation, in the following two years, some 80,000
additional students who were still 4 in September and October would
also be barred from regular kindergarten, but would have the option of
enrolling in transitional kindergarten. One rationale is that on average
children who start kindergarten later do better academically as
measured on math and reading scores by the time they enter 1st grade,
according to research from the Rand Corporation.

Long Beach Unified, which already had one of the more extensive
transitional kindergarten programs in the state, will continue offering
those classes, according to district spokesperson Chris Eftychiou.

Chino Unified will do the same. However, said the district’s Vicki
Broberg, “Should the governor overturn the legislation, and not require
transitional kindergarten, we will not be able to offer it to our
students to the budget constraints we are under.”

San Bernardino City Unified “is going forward with plans to offer
transitional kindergarten” said Linda Bardere, the district’s director
of communications, but only “contingent upon funding.”  In the meantime,
it is enrolling students, and will continue to do so.

Clovis Unified’s Kelly Avants said that the district “exploring ways to continue to provide kindergarten services to children.”

“Transitional kindergarten is still in the law, and therefore we are
making every effort to identify ways to meet the educational needs of
these students,” she said.

Lodi Unified is taking a wait-and-see attitude, said Catherine
Pennington, the district’s assistant superintendent for elementary
education. The school district has done all its planning in anticipation
of offering transitional kindergarten in the fall, but “we are
currently waiting to see how the funding of transitional kindergarten
plays out in the governor’s budget in the May revision,” she said,
referring to the revised budget Gov Brown will announce in mid-May.

In the meantime, the district is taking the names of students who
will be 4 in November, and “will invite them to register if we are able
to move forward with our plans.”

At Corona-Norco Unified, “as transitional kindergarten is still in
law, we are moving forward with planning of implementation next year,”
said Barbara Wolfinbarger, the district’s director of elementary
curriculum and instruction.

At the same time, the district is holding off buying instructional
materials or incurring any other costs until the funding situation
becomes clear, she said.

Even San Francisco, which announced on January 25 that “effective
immediately” it would not be offering transitional kindergarten in the
fall, and that only students turning 5 years old on or before November 1
will be eligible for kindergarten entry,” has also drawn up contingency
plans if the Legislature fails to endorse Brown’s proposal.

If the state mandates transitional kindergarten, it will be offered
at only two sites in the city, which will make reaching them difficult
for many parents in a city the size of San Francisco. But children who
have not turned 5 by next November will still be barred from attending
regular kindergarten. That would represent a change from current
practice when children who only turn 5 anytime before December 1 are
eligible for regular kindergarten.

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