Kindergarten change could cost schools more dollars

01.21.2012 | Santa Cruz Sentinel | Donna Jones

SANTA CRUZ – Not only are school
districts concerned about potential cuts outlined in the governor’s
budget proposal, they are faced with deciding how or if to implement a
new kindergarten program with no state funding.

Gov. Jerry Brown proposed the elimination of $223 million in funding
for transitional kindergarten, which beginning next school year requires
entering kindergartners to be 5 by Nov. 1, a date that moves up by one
month until a Sept. 1 deadline goes into effect in 2014.

State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who authored the plan, said the
goal of moving up the eligibility date was to ensure children were
mature enough and prepared enough for success.

The revenue-neutral plan plowed cost savings into the transitional
kindergarten program, aimed at giving children who missed the deadline
for school a chance at a better start the next year. It also softened
the blow for schools, which could expect a dip in kindergarten
enrollment and a resulting drop in per-student funding.

The county Office of Education estimates the change could affect more than 500 students this year countywide.

Patty Deming, assistant superintendent of businesses services for the
Live Oak School District, said if 20 fewer kindergartners show up next
year, the district could lose another $100,000.

Harley Robertson, assistant superintendent at Soquel Union Elementary
School District, has given the issue some thought as well. Unless the
legislation is changed, schools will have to provide transitional
kindergarten, but they won’t get any money to do it under Brown’s plan.

“It’s an unfunded mandate like special education transportation,” he said.

Simitian said families, who were counting on their children entering
kindergarten or the transitional program next year to ease the economic
burden of child care or to allow a parent to return to work, will take a
hit as well.

Adding to the pain is the thousands of state-supported child-care slots proposed for elimination in Brown’s budget.

“It’s bad for kids, bad for families, bad for schools,” Simitian said.

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