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Schools prep for extra year of kindergarten

05.25.2012 | The San Mateo Daily Journal | Heather Murtagh

Without support from the Legislature to cut transitional kindergarten, most local districts are preparing to offer the new program in the fall to allow additional academic time for children who turn 5 late in the year.

Under the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, authored by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, students must be 5 years old to start kindergarten. Starting this year, the deadline to turn 5 will slowly be moved up from Dec. 1 to Sept. 1. An additional year of transitional kindergarten, called TK, was supposed to be offered for children with birthdays after the new deadlines. The new program called for state funding. Districts and parents were put in a strange holding pattern earlier this year when Gov. Jerry Brown’s January budget proposal called for the elimination of the program. Since then, state officials from both Assembly and Senate subcommittees have rejected the proposal to eliminate the program. While Brown’s May revise of the state budget didn’t say it was officially off the chopping block, most local districts plan to offer the additional year in the fall.

Simitian, who has worked on this bill for years, looked forward to visiting a TK classroom on the first day of school in the fall. He added it will be interesting to look at the students in 10 to 15 years. An extra year is hoped to allow students time to get attention in areas they may need help in earlier creating less need for remediation services down the road.

One change to come from the May revise is that should a district decide not to move forward with TK, the savings will go toward state-funded preschool offerings, explained Deborah Kong, communications director for Preschool California. However, Kong questioned the numbers presented in the proposal which expected to result in $91.5 million savings to restore part of the cuts and expand access to part-day preschool. The governor’s proposal estimates the money would impact 15,500 students in the state. Offering transitional kindergarten throughout the state, however, would serve more students, she said. In addition, the number of spots that could be created would not meet the needs.

Susan Bell, 17th District Parent Teacher Association president, which serves San Mateo, said the extra year is quite important to those who will now be given the chance to learn alongside children of the same age. That extra year for the younger students will allow more time for social and emotional development necessary for students to be successful in the classroom, she said.

Since Brown made his proposal, many early education supporters have argued the governor could not simply cut the budget for transitional kindergarten as it’s currently required by law. Instead, the law would need to be changed by a vote of both houses of the California Legislature. With that logic, and the most recent votes opposing the cut, many transitional kindergarten programs will move forward in the state.

In San Mateo County, the San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District will have the largest group of students starting TK in the fall. As of last week, 75 students had registered but the district is planning to house 120 students at five different campuses. One campus, Beresford Elementary, will offer a TK/kindergarten cluster class.

Many smaller districts, like San Bruno and Burlingame elementary school districts, will have one class. San Bruno has 24 eligible students while Burlingame is planning to serve 22. In San Carlos, only 16 students have signed up so the district is planning to offer two TK/kindergarten classes within the district.

Not all districts have made a decision. The Belmont-Redwood Shores Elementary School District Board of Trustees will soon vote on whether to move forward.

California actually doesn’t require students be enrolled in kindergarten. Similarly, students are not required to enroll in the TK program. Parents could, instead, wait to enroll their children until first grade.

Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: heather@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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