Kindergarten? Transitional class? More preschool? Shifting state law and budget has parents confused

01.26.2012 | San Jose Mercury News | Sharon Noguchi

decades, California parents with kids nearing their fifth birthday knew
that right about now, they needed to start thinking about registering
for kindergarten.

But a new law, a funding crisis and California’s
Byzantine budgeting ways have turned that certainty on its head. Not
only parents, but also schools and even state officials are confused
about who can start school in August.

It used to be that children
turning 5 years old by Dec. 2 could enroll in kindergarten that year. A
new state law rolls back that cutoff date to Nov. 1 this year and
orders districts to offer a year of “transitional kindergarten” for
children left out.

Then, earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown cut the funding for that program in his proposed budget.

threw school officials for a loop: On one hand, the state still
requires them to offer the class; on the other, they risk receiving no
funding for it, a possibility none of them can afford.

“It’s so
confusing right now,” said Terry Koehne of the San Ramon Valley school
district. “It’s hard to make sense of where we are.”

What to do?
Some districts, such as Lafayette, are enrolling November-birthday
children anyway for the fall, telling parents the class could be
canceled. Others, such as San Francisco, dropped plans, and some, such
as San Jose Unified, have expanded the new class to all children born in
the fall — hoping the state will end up paying.

“I was definitely disappointed,” said Gilroy parent Kerry Drago, who had been hoping to enroll her daughter in the transitional program that Brown wants to cut.

The uncertainty has left parents, especially those of the 40,000 children born in November 2007, frustrated and anxious.

the window for kindergarten registration opening now, parents of
late-birthday children are trying to decide whether to register for
kindergarten, transitional kindergarten or look for another year of
preschool or child care. The Legislature won’t resolve the uncertainty
soon, and parents could be in a holding pattern, perhaps until school

Elaine Marshall went to get information on signing up her
daughter for kindergarten, and she found San Jose Unified was promoting a
class that it admits may not materialize if Brown gets his way.

“I’m trying to get my daughter enrolled in kindergarten and keeping my fingers crossed,” Marshall said.

transitional kindergarten involves more than adding a classroom or
making a subsection of regular kindergarten classes. In elementary
schools, “the playhouse is gone, a lot of the things you might have used
— building blocks — are no longer there. You’ve given them to
preschools,” said Pat Lamson, interim superintendent of the Loma Prieta
Joint Union Elementary School District, in the mountains above Los

“This is bad for kids and bad for schools,” state Sen. Joe
Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said about Brown’s proposal, which would save
$223 million. Simitian pushed through the law to change the starting age
for kindergarten.

But some agree with the governor.

kindergarten is unnecessary and should be the first on the chopping
block, San Jose parent John Ryan said. He called it “a government
preschool subsidy for kids born between September and November that
isn’t available to kids born the other nine months of the year, whose
parents pay for preschool on their own.”

Others say that the class is a luxury that California can’t afford when so many other worthy programs are being cut.

educators insist transitional kindergarten is a good investment,
preparation for the increasingly academic focus in kindergarten. “I see
it as a way to support student success in school,” said Elizabeth
Schuck, assistant superintendent in the Cabrillo Unified School
District, which serves the Coastside area in San Mateo County.

pointed out that it’s the first time the state has added a grade level
to public education since 1891. “Kindergarten teachers have long said
we’ve needed a program such as this, focused on the developmental needs
of young kindergartners.”

Kids unprepared for kindergarten can’t
sit still, have a hard time focusing and socializing, much less learning
to read and add. They risk falling behind for their whole academic
career, teachers say.

The uncertainty may not end this year. In
2013, the state’s kindergarten cutoff date moves back another month to
Oct. 1, then in 2014 to Sept. 1 — setting the stage for more wrangling.

Click here for original source with photos and a chart of how districts are handling registration for kindergarten.

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