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Hampering Transition

01.25.2012 | Santa Maria Times | Gina Potthoff

Local school districts could be losing state money next school
year instead of gaining some to serve their youngest students.

School officials, who have for more than a year been plotting
how they would comply with a new state law that pushes back the
date by which children must turn 5 to enter kindergarten, learned
this month that the state likely will not pay to implement a
transitional program for affected students.

The Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010 pushes the enrollment
cutoff birth date from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1, a change that will be
phased in one month at a time over three years starting this
fall.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal released this month does not
include funding for the new transitional kindergarten grade, which
is supposed to serve students who turn 5 after the cutoff to ensure
they’re developmentally and academically ready for kindergarten the
next year. This year’s cutoff date is Nov. 1.

Now that the program is likely no longer required or funded –
which is supposed to save the state $224 million – local districts
must choose to fund or scrap plans.

Either way, they’ll lose state dollars because they miss out on
Average Daily Attendance (ADA) for hundreds of kids who aren’t 5 in
time.

Between 150 and 200 children fall into the transitional month in
the Santa Maria-Bonita School District. The district would need
between $800,000 and $1 million to staff the grade, transport
students, etc.

“I just don’t see how we can,” Superintendent Phil Alvarado
said, noting that the district could postpone transitional
kindergarten a year. “The funding isn’t there. Would we love to
implement? Absolutely.”

Timing also puts districts in a pickle since most kindergarten
round-ups and registration begin in late February or March to
determine the next year’s staffing.

“Now we’re kind of in limbo,” said Holly Edds, Orcutt Union
School District assistant superintendent of curriculum. “We’d
really like to have plans in place when parents register.”

The change would short Orcutt 30 students for 2012-13, affecting
90 kids over three years.

Edds said the distinct had planned to shift resources to serve
those students at Joe Nightingale Elementary. Without them, Orcutt
could be forced to reduce excess staff.

“Children struggle developmentally,” Edds said. “To have that
gift of time is an amazing gift.”

Despite funding issues, the California Department of Education
supports the transitional kindergarten program, and will continue
to move forward with the 2012-13 implementation plan unless the law
changes.

Some districts that have already started offering the program,
such as Blochman Union in Sisquoc, have not made plans as to
whether it will continue.

Guadalupe Union School District Superintendent Ed Cora is
confident there’s a way to offer the program using current
resources.

“We’re going ahead with it,” Cora said. “I don’t have Plan B
right now.”

In Lompoc, a kindergarten council has been created to continue
laying groundwork in case funding does turn up.

About one quarter of Lompoc Unified School District’s
kindergartners were born in the three-month window, said Laura-Lee
Parks, director of student achievement and curriculum.

“Funding would be the key piece,” Parks said. “As a district, we
would have to look at all the funding we receive and ask ourselves
‘What are our priorities?'”

Transitional kindergarten by the numbers

  • 40,000 children would qualify for transitional kindergarten
    program in fall 2012-13 
  • 120,000 would qualify when the law takes full effect in fall
    2014
  • $9.2 billion estimated budget deficit for state fiscal year
    2012-13 
  • $224 million estimated savings in 2012-13 by not funding
    program
  • $672 million estimated savings in 2014-2015 by not funding
    program
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