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S.F. schools drop 2012-2013 transitional kindergarten

01.26.2012 | San Francisco Chronicle | Jill Tucker

San Francisco school officials have abandoned plans to offer
transitional kindergarten this fall, saying the uncertainty over the state budget makes it too much of a financial risk to pursue.

The decision flies in the face of state law, which still requires
districts to offer the program starting in the 2012-13 school year, but
Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget would eliminate that requirement as well as the funding for the program.

Districts won’t know for sure whether that will be the case until the Legislature passes a budget in late June, at the earliest.

Despite the state mandate to provide the program, San Francisco
pulled the plug on it Wednesday, two days before the deadline for
families to submit first-round applications for school placement.

By canceling transitional kindergarten now, the district runs the
risk of having to ramp up the program right before school starts in the
fall, if the law remains unchanged.

District officials said if that happens, they will offer transitional-K spots at McLaren and Havard Early Education schools rather than at every elementary school as initially planned.

San Francisco appeared to be the first district to cancel the program in the wake of the governor’s budget.

“We don’t think it’s prudent to start a new program that as far as we
know is unfunded,” said district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe. “We think
it’s very important that families have the opportunity to plan ahead.”

The transitional kindergarten requirement is part of a state law
rolling back the birthday cutoff to start kindergarten from Dec. 2 to
Sept. 2 over three years to ensure that most children start school when
they are 5. The process is to begin in the fall with a birthday cutoff
date of Nov. 2.

The transitional-K program would accommodate children born in the
fall, giving them an extra year to get ready for the rigors of
kindergarten. With or without the program, children in San Francisco who
turn 5 after Nov. 2 won’t be able to start kindergarten or attend
transitional kindergarten.

Parents who wanted to sign up for transitional kindergarten will now have to make new plans.

That is unfortunate, said Catherine Atkin, executive director of Preschool California.

“At a time when parents are facing great economic hardships,” she
said, “those who were expecting their children to enter school this fall
will be forced to scramble for child care, when there are fewer and
fewer options.”

E-mail Jill Tucker at jtucker@sfchronicle.com.

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