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Education: Proposal unsettles plans for new early kindergarten

01.12.2012 | The Press-Enterprise | Dayna Straehley

Inland school districts want to follow state law and offer a new
level of kindergarten for the youngest students, but the governor’s
proposed budget cuts the money to pay for it.

The budget slices
funding based on enrollment for kindergarten as the children who will
turn 5 in November have to wait another year to start school under the
governor’s plan.

The Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010 rolls back
the cutoff birth date for children to start kindergarten and also
requires districts to offer a new transitional kindergarten for children
affected.

To start kindergarten in 2012, children must be 5 by
Nov. 2 instead of Dec. 2 as in previous years. The cutoff date will
change to Oct. 1 in 2013 and Sept. 1 in 2014 under the act.

Gov. Jerry Brown is counting on the reduced enrollment to bring down total per-pupil spending to balance the budget.

The
lost funding would amount to $1.5 million next year for Corona-Norco
Unified School District, which has the largest enrollment in Riverside
County. Another $1.5 million would be cut in 2013-14 and again in
2014-15, Assistant Superintendent Sherry Mata said.

However, the
Riverside County Office of Education is advising districts to continue
planning for transitional kindergarten but wait until the state budget
plans are clearer before they spend any money, said JoAnne Lauer,
administrator in the instructional services unit.

She has led a
series of all-day workshops attended by most districts in Riverside
County as well as some from outside the county to help them plan
transitional kindergarten programs.

“I can’t begin to tell you how much work our districts have put in,” Lauer said.

School
leaders have been considering age-appropriate curriculum. They also
have been analyzing kindergarten enrollment trends to figure out the
number and location of schools where they would offer transitional
kindergarten. They also are considering the locations of classrooms
within those schools and have discussed busing.

Temecula Valley
Unified School District now says on its website that without funding for
transitional kindergarten, the district is not likely to be able to
offer it next year as previously planned.

“Our plans are on hold
at this time,” Director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Andreé
Grey said in an email. “However, we will follow the updates and plan
accordingly.”

Corona-Norco Unified School District has pilot
transitional kindergarten classes in six schools this year and plans the
classes next year at 16 of its 31 elementary schools, said Barbara
Wolfinbarger, administrative director of elementary education.

She
said Corona-Norco district leaders are discussing their plans as they
monitor the governor’s and legislators’ budget discussions.

Colton
Joint Unified School District announced registration for kindergarten
and transitional kindergarten last week as the governor was calling a
news conference to announce his budget proposal. That district, based in
San Bernardino County, is following the existing law despite the
uncertainty.

“We’re still proceeding with our planned
implementation,” Katie Orloff, district communications manager, said
with a sigh. “We’re waiting to hear something more.”

That law
isn’t likely to change, said state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, the
author of the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010.

“I can’t imagine
which member of the Legislature would introduce a bill to tell 250,000
parents that their 125,000 kids won’t be able to start school as they
expected,” Simitian said by phone, referring to the children who will
turn 5 in November.

Legislators won’t want to tell those parents
they have to pay for another year of child care or wait another year
before going back to work, he said. At the same time, the governor’s
budget proposes to eliminate 71,000 child care subsidies, Simitian said.

He
planned to join the California Kindergarten Association today in Santa
Clara for a legislative briefing and objections to the governor’s
proposal.

Transitional kindergarten is an optional additional year
of school for children who turn 5 between Sept. 1 and Dec. 2. It is
more academic than preschool but catered to younger kindergarteners who
don’t have the fine motor skills, attention span or maturity to succeed
in regular kindergarten, which is more academic than even 10 years ago,
Lauer said.

The youngest children may struggle emotionally or
socially, and sometimes their problems aren’t apparent until middle
school when their peers mature, said Cynthia Glover Woods, assistant
superintendent of Alvord Unified School District, which covers parts of
Riverside and Corona.

Even if young children come into
kindergarten knowing their shapes and colors and have practiced drawing,
coloring, writing and using scissors at home, they don’t have
preparation for the cooperative and collaborative learning required in
today’s kindergarten classes, Lauer said.

Transitional
kindergarten does not require any new state funding, just maintaining
funding for the children who would have started kindergarten under the
old law, she said. It would be funded under the same per-pupil formula
the state uses to fund schools, only the youngest children would be in a
separate class with a separate teacher who is already on the payroll.

Even if the law does change with the funding cut, the planning won’t all be wasted, Wolfinbarger said.

“It brings to light what the needs are for young children,” she said.

Click here for original article with photo.

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