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SB 1381 and Transition Kindergarten

08.10.2010 | California Progress Report | Catherine Atkin

Catherine Atkin is president of Preschool California, a nonprofit advocacy organization working to increase access to high-quality preschool for all of California’s children, starting with those who need it most.

Next month, more than 450,000 children across the state will enter kindergarten. Although most of these new students will be 5 years old, nearly a quarter of the entering kindergarteners will be only 4 years old, some of the youngest students in the nation.  During this week’s final deliberations, the Assembly Appropriations Committee will hear SB 1381, sponsored by Senator Joe Simitian. If the bill passes and continues to move forward, eventually receiving the governor’s signature, it will help to ensure that all of California’s kindergarteners enter school ready to succeed.

California’s children begin kindergarten at a younger age than kids in almost any other state, often before they have the skills they need to meet the challenges of kindergarten. We are one of only four states that allow children as young as 4 years old to attend kindergarten; at the same time, California has some of the highest standards for what we expect children to learn in kindergarten classrooms.  Currently, if children turn age 5 by Dec. 2, they can attend kindergarten. SB 1381, sponsored by Senator Joe Simitian, will change the kindergarten entry date in California from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1, so all children enter kindergarten at age 5.

Each year, 120,000 4 year olds enter kindergarten, including approximately 49,000 English Language Learners and 74,000 students who attend Title I schools. Changing the kindergarten entry date in California will generate savings that could be used to give these 4 year olds an additional year of preparation before kindergarten. This transitional kindergarten program uses existing levels of education funding, teachers and classroom facilities to provide children who turn 5 years old between September and December with a year of early education. This year of ­­­transitional kindergarten will allow them to mature socially, emotionally, cognitively and physically, and help them develop the skills they need to succeed in the year before kindergarten.

High-quality early childhood programs like transitional kindergarten develop a strong foundation for learning. Research shows that moving the kindergarten entry date up increases test scores by as much as 27%. Additionally, children who attend high-quality early learning programs are less likely to drop out of high school, be held back a grade or be placed in special education, and are more likely to score better on reading and math achievement tests. Studies also show that high-quality early education helps narrow the achievement gap and offers one of the highest returns of any public investment – more than $7 for every dollar spent.

Recognizing these benefits, communities across California have already implemented this innovative reform. Our state’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified School District, will begin a new pilot program this year; when adopted districtwide, it will serve more than 11,000 4 year olds.  Additionally, Palo Alto, Torrance, Orange County and other districts all already offer their youngest learners an extra year of preparation before starting kindergarten. Fresno and Sacramento will launch also their pilot programs this fall.

It is clear that SB 1381 and its transitional kindergarten program have the backing of research and statewide momentum. California policymakers should support this unique opportunity to ensure our children are ready to learn and succeed in school, compete in the global economy and contribute to thriving communities.

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