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California can’t afford to cut transitional kindergarten [Blowback]

03.06.2012 | Los Angeles Times | Catherine Atkin

Catherine Atkin, president of Preschool California, responds to The Times’ Feb. 29 editorial, “California to some kids: No.” Atkin’s response is on behalf of the Save Kindergarten Coalition of
school districts, superintendents, educators, parents, business and
civic leaders and groups supporting full access to kindergarten for all
children this fall. If you would like to write a full-length response to
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The Times’ editorial board got it right that many children would
benefit from transitional kindergarten, a developmentally-appropriate
grade specifically designed to serve younger students who are unprepared
for today’s more academically advanced kindergarten.

Research shows that transitional kindergarten results in greater
academic achievement, higher graduation rates and better jobs, and saves
schools money by reducing the number of students entering special
education and being held back a grade.

The Times got it wrong, however, about the governor’s proposal to eliminate transitional kindergarten resulting in cost savings.

Cutting transitional kindergarten will save little to no money.
Having already cut in half their estimates of the alleged cost savings,
the governor’s own staff doesn’t even know how much it may or may not
save. Nor do they propose to apply these supposed savings to the state
deficit. This is because school districts have a strong financial
incentive to provide transitional kindergarten for all students to avoid
these additional cuts. That’s why more than 100 districts have already
come out and said they are enrolling children in transitional
kindergarten despite the governor’s proposal. 

Under current law, however, transitional kindergarten doesn’t cost
any new dollars until 2025. It doesn’t expand the number of students
enrolled in schools. It is simply a wiser way to spend existing funds in
a more economical and efficient way to get our youngest students off to
a smart start.

Cutting transitional kindergarten would be more costly in both the
short and long term because it would result in more students being
placed in special education, being held back or dropping out of school.

The Times also got it wrong by claiming that children will be more prepared for kindergarten merely by waiting an extra year.

Research by Deborah Stipek and others clearly shows that simply
moving kindergarten entry dates back impaired students’ academic
performance, especially for low-income students. Being in school for a
year, even in a classroom that is not developmentally appropriate, is
still better than no school at all. 

What kind of a California are we creating if the Brown
administration’s proposal to eliminate transitional kindergarten goes
forward? The proposal could deny 125,000 children their right to public
school, and it is creating chaos and confusion throughout the state.

Already, some school districts are moving forward with
implementation, while others are on hold. Next year we could see a child
in the Los Angeles Unified School District having access to
transitional kindergarten while another child in Inglewood or Compton
would not. That’s like offering second grade to some students but not to
others. This would further widen the achievement gap and erode equal
opportunity for success in school.    

Superintendents throughout the state, who are constantly asked to do
more with less, are moving forward with transitional kindergarten
registration because they recognize it as a wise investment. Parents,
educators, business and law enforcement leaders also oppose the Brown
administration’s proposal.  

Although the future of transitional kindergarten in some school
districts is uncertain, what is certain is that cutting transitional
kindergarten is a shortsighted mistake that California can’t afford.

–Catherine Atkin

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