Opposition to Brown proposal to postpone transitional kindergarten grows

01.09.2012 | EdSource | Louis Freedberg

Child care advocates and leading educators are vigorously protesting the proposal in Governor Brown’s January budget to postpone, perhaps indefinitely, “transitional kindergarten” for 4-year-olds due to go into effect this fall.

In a tough response on its website, Preschool California, a nonprofit advocacy organization, calls for “saving kindergarten” in California.  It also carries letters from superintendents of some of California’s largest school districts such as San Diego, Long Beach, Oakland and Fresno, as well as the Los Angeles Unified School District board president, all in essence calling on Brown to reconsider his proposal.

“Gov. Brown’s January budget proposal includes kicking 120,000 kids out of school over the next three years,” Preschool California declared.”This is a devastating blow for California’s young children. Cutting kindergarten is a lose-lose-lose-lose for California’s children, parents, teachers and schools.“

The 120,000 figure is the group’s estimate of the number of children excluded from kindergarten should the transitional kindergarten law be delayed indefinitely. ”This is the largest number of kids ever kicked out of public school in the nation’s history,” the group claims. By ”kicking out” the group refers to children who would have been eligible to enroll, not the children who are already enrolled in kindergarten.

What has especially angered child care advocates is that an estimated 40,000 4-year-olds who have not yet turned 5 by November will be barred from attending regular kindergarten. These are children who will still be 4 in November, and would normally have attended regular kindergarten had the Legislature not chosen to offer them transitional kindergarten classes instead.

Over the past 25 years, there have been a dozen or more efforts to approve legislation limiting kindergarten to children whose 5th birthday falls on or before September 1. Changing the eligibility date would have brought California in line with the practice in most other states. But those efforts have never made it past the appropriations committees in either chambers, according to Sacramento insiders.

Brown’s budget does not make it explicit that he intended to change what has been a longstanding practice to allow 4-year-olds who have not turned 5 by December 1 to attend kindergarten. That has led some childcare advocates to wonder whether he or his staff were entirely aware of the consequences of deferring implementation of transitional kindergarten, and projecting a savings of $223 million.

To capture those savings, school districts that would normally have received about $6,000 for each 4-year-old child in “average daily attendance” would not receive those funds, and thus contribute to their already considerable budget challenges.

The budget math around transitional kindergarten is counterintuitive. This year, and for the next 13 years, there would be no additional cost to the state,

That is because the estimated 40,000 children who would have been eligible to attend transitional kindergarten this fall would have most likely have attended regular kindergarten if the new law establishing transitional kindergarten had not been in place.

The first additional cost would be 13 years from now (2025) when the students in the first transitional kindergarten class reach their senior year in high school—their 14th year of publicly supported education, compared to the 13 years that most Californians are typically eligible for.

Compounding the problem, childcare advocates say, is that children older than 4 years and 9 months would not be eligible for state subsidized child care, because they would be expected to sign up for regular kindergarten. Another barrier is that the Brown budget calls for eliminating 70,000 child care slots, which would add to the scarcity of child care availability, even if the age eligibility rules for subsidized childcare were changed by the Legislature.

The text in the letters to Brown from education leaders and others were mostly identical. But in a handwritten note to Brown on one of them,  Bill Taylor, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, wrote, “It is imperative that we not pull the rug from 120,000 kindergartners. The early years are the most vital and the children who will be affected disproportionately will be children of color.”

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