Calif. Budget Proposal Would Kill ‘Transitional Kindergarten’

01.17.2012 | Early Ed Watch | Linda Jacobson

Today we feature a guest post from Linda Jacobson, veteran education reporter and author of the policy paper, On the Cusp in California.

as school districts across California have started to phase in the
state’s new “transitional kindergarten” for 4- and 5-year-olds, Gov.
Jerry Brown (D) is proposing to eliminate funding for the classes,
saying now is not the time for “program expansions.”

learning advocates, however, have reacted strongly, saying that the
reversal is breaking a promise that the state made to families when the
Kindergarten Readiness Act passed in 2010. The law changed the age of
eligibility so that children will be older when they start kindergarten
and created “transitional kindergarten,” known as TK.  The program was
designed to serve children who would be newly labeled as too young for
kindergarten but unlikely to have access to pre-K programs to attend
instead.  At the time, then-Gov. Schwarzenegger (R) called the
legislation “a landmark accomplishment for early childhood developmental
education in California.”

The state’s new cut-off date for
admission to kindergarten will be Sept. 1 when the law is fully
implemented in 2014. The change is occurring gradually, with this year’s
cut-off set at Nov. 1, meaning that any child who is still 4 years old
by Nov. 1st would not be able to attend regular kindergarten.

years, California had one of the latest cut-offs in the country:  Dec.
2. Educators and early learning advocates have long said that many of
those older 4-year-olds did not yet have the classroom readiness skills
they needed to be successful, especially with the increasing
expectations for children to develop social and academic skills by the
end of the kindergarten year.  

Yet child advocates have also
worried that setting a new cut-off date would leave low-income families
with few options for early education for their children during the year
those children turn 5.  The Kindergarten Readiness Act was able to gain
supporters in part because it created a TK program to ensure that those
children were not left out.

“Kicking 125,000 children out of
kindergarten is a lose-lose-lose that will hurt kids and parents, and
cost 5,000 teachers their jobs,” Preschool California President
Catherine Atkin, said in a press release. “Without this critical year of
schooling, California’s children will fall further behind, and parents
who are expecting their children to enter school this fall will be
forced to scramble for child care or stop working entirely – which
families cannot afford.”

Governor Brown released his budget proposal
 Jan. 5 and said that his budget “keeps the cuts made last year and
adds new ones. The stark truth is that without some new taxes, damaging
cuts to schools, universities, public safety and our courts will only
increase.” California has not fully recovered from the recession. Since
2008, significant cuts in education and other department have been
enacted in order to make up budget shortfalls.

Most districts have
been gearing up to open TK classrooms in the fall of 2012, when the
first of the new cut-off dates takes effect. But others—including the
largest in the state, Los Angeles Unified — jumped out in front and
began offering the program in the fall of 2010 on a voluntary basis to
schools that wanted it.

In 2010-11, 36 schools in LAUSD were
offering TK using state education funds. Another 78 joined this school
year, bringing the current number of children in TK to around 2,000.
Some of those schools have hosted visitors from other districts
interested in what Los Angeles teachers and administrators have learned
so far.

TK allows teachers to provide many of the features
associated with well-designed pre-K and kindergarten classrooms,
including “center” activities in which children form small groups and
work at projects on tables or on the rug, dramatic play corners, and
extra support in children’s home language for English learners.

of the things language learners need is vocabulary. In center time,
they really get it,” Stacey Arballo, a TK teacher at Gulf Avenue
Elementary in Wilmington, Calif., said in Right from the Start: Transition Strategies for Developing a Strong PreK-3 Continuum, a new report from the American Federation of Teachers.

adds that teaching TK has given her the flexibility to slow down
lessons if she feels students need more time. And for those children in
TK who are progressing quickly, schools have the option of recommending
that they advance into 1st grade without spending another year in regular kindergarten.

TK will save the state more than $223 million this year because fewer
children will be in the school system, according to the proposed budget.

governor’s proposal also includes $2.5 billion in cuts to health and
human services, including a reduction of 62,000 child care slots for
low-income families, as well as more than $300 million to the Cal Grant
program, which provides financial aid for college to low-income

But even those figures are contingent upon voters
approving income tax increases starting at 1 percent on married couples
earning at least $500,000 in November. Those earning between $601,000
and $1 million would pay an extra 1.5 percent, and those couples earning
over $1 million would pay an extra 2 percent. 

Supposing the tax
increase passes, funding for K-12 and community colleges would increase,
but much of that extra funding would be used to reimburse education
funding required in the state.

If the tax increase were rejected,
the cuts would be far deeper, including $4.8 billion from public schools
and community colleges and $200 million each from the state’s two
university systems.

The cuts to child development programs are
being proposed even though the state was recently awarded one of nine
Early Learning Challenge grants, which state officials plan
to use to build a Quality Rating and Improvement System. Decreases in
funding now, would “undercut those efforts,” said Atkin of Preschool
California.  And given California’s laggard status on a few indicators
in early education, some analysts are questioning how California managed to win a grant in the first place.

governor is also calling for a new “weighted-pupil” funding formula,
which would allocate funding to schools based on their needs, such as
higher poverty or greater numbers of English learners.

Hefner, spokesman for the California Department of Education, says that
under the governor’s plan, even if schools still want to offer TK, they
won’t be able to use state funding—or average daily attendance
funding—to pay for it.

And even though a weighted-student formula
is meant to provide “very flexible dollars for locals,” Hefner says,
 those dollars would still have to be spent on K-12 students.

funding for preschool and child care subsidies being cut, advocates say
it’s unlikely that families who were counting on their children being
in TK this fall will find space in asubsidized program.

Armenta, the executive director for early childhood education for LAUSD,
says those schools that were “early implementers” of TK are likely to
feel the greatest impact if the budget plan is approved.

“The best case scenario is hopefully the legislature will let us at least keep what we have,” she said.

an interview, Atkin called the governor’s plan a “non-starter” and said
Preschool California is hoping members of the legislature who have
expressed opposition to cutting TK will prevail during the session.
“We’re confident that they will be rejecting this,” she said.

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