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California May Scrap Kindergarten Program

01.13.2012 | TIME | Hector Amezcua


(SAN FRANCISCO) — California educators and
childcare advocates are protesting Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to scrap
a new program for children who are no longer old enough for
kindergarten.

The governor’s budget plan for 2012-2013 doesn’t provide funding for
“transitional kindergarten,” a new grade level created when Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger signed legislation that raised the starting age for
kindergarten. (See “Rethinking Pre-K: 5 Ways to Fix Preschool.”)

That law, signed in 2010, pushes back the date by which children
must turn 5 to enter kindergarten from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1. The change
will be phased in one month at a time over three years starting this
fall.

The legislation established transitional kindergarten for kids who
don’t make the new cutoff date. The program is to be taught by
credentialed teachers and tailored to children who would turn 5 in
September, October and November.

An estimated 40,000 children are expected to be eligible for
transitional kindergarten this fall. About 120,000 kids are expected to
qualify when the law takes full effect in fall 2014.

Brown is seeking to close an estimated $9.2 billion budget deficit
with a mix of temporary tax increases and spending cuts to social
services and education.

The Democratic governor wants to save an estimated $224 million in
2012-13 by not requiring districts to offer transitional kindergarten.
That savings would increase to $672 million in 2014-2015 when the law
takes full effect. “Given the fiscal situation the state is in, we
should not embark on this type of a program expansion at this time,”
said H.D. Palmer, Brown’s finance spokesman. “This is one of the
difficult decisions that was necessary to close a budget gap of $9
billion.”

(See “Perspectives on No Child Left Behind, 10 Years After Its Signing.”)

But preschool advocates say the plan will shut thousands of children
out of public education and create financial hardship for families that
can’t afford an extra year of childcare or preschool.

A coalition of California educators, preschool advocates and
lawmakers are vowing to fight Brown’s kindergarten proposal.”This is a
nonstarter,” said Catherine Atkin, executive director of the advocacy
group Preschool California. “This is not the time to move backward in
providing access to public education.”

State Sen. Joe Simitian, who authored the 2010 law, and preschool
advocates plan to speak out against the governor’s proposal Friday at
the annual gathering of the California Kindergarten Association in Santa
Clara.

California currently has one of the country’s latest cutoff dates —
about one-fourth of students are 4 years old when they start
kindergarten. Most U.S. states require students to be 5 to enroll.

Raising the kindergarten age could lead to stronger academic
performance, higher graduation rates and fewer students needing to
repeat grades or take special ed classes, supporters say.

Many families hold their children back a year to give them more time
to prepare for kindergarten, which has become more academically
intensive in recent years, but that isn’t an option for low-income
families, Atkin said.

Parents who believe their kids are ready for kindergarten or can’t
afford another year of childcare can petition their districts to allow
their children to start school early, said Susan Burr, executive
director of the state Board of Education.

The proposal to eliminate the mandate for transitional kindergarten
is part of the governor’s plan to give school districts more discretion
over how they spend state education funds, she said. “These decisions
are best made at the local level,” said Burr, who serves as Brown’s
education policy advisor.

(See “Perspectives on No Child Left Behind, 10 Years After Its Signing.”)

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