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California education cuts could hit young students the hardest

01.17.2012 | San Francisco Examiner | Amy Crawford

Kindergarten teachers and advocates for early education are
protesting Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to defund a kindergarten program
that would serve children whose fifth birthdays come after a new cutoff
date for entry.  

“It’s balancing the budget on the backs of
these kindergartners and their families,” said state Sen. Joe Simitian,
D-Palo Alto, a member of the Senate Education Committee.

Simitian
sponsored the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, which gradually
increases the age at which children become eligible for kindergarten.

While current kindergartners became eligible if their fifth birthday occurred by Dec. 2, by 2014 that date will be Sept. 1.

Beginning
this year, the law also requires school districts to offer children
with birthdays that fall between the old and new dates a year of
“transitional kindergarten.”

But in a budget proposal released
last week, Brown called for the elimination of per-pupil funding for
students who would have been in transitional kindergarten.

The governor estimated the move would save California $223.7 million.

Debra Weller, former president of the California Kindergarten
Association and a teacher in Orange County, said that transitional
kindergarten would save the state more money in the long term because
children who are not well-prepared to start school are more likely to
need special education or remediation, or have to repeat a grade later
on.

“He doesn’t realize the repercussions of his proposal,” Weller said.

While
the Legislature would still have to repeal the 2010 law in order to
realize the immediate savings, the governor’s proposal puts parents of
November babies in a quandary.

“For parents, this is a real
nightmare,” said Catherine Atkin, president of the advocacy group
Preschool California. “They’ll be sent scrambling looking for a place to
send their kids while they’re working.”

Making that more
difficult, Atkin noted, is another item in the governor’s proposed
education budget: $516.8 million in cuts to child care funding.

acrawford@sfexaminer.com

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