Transitional Kindergarten Facing Ax under Brown’s Proposal

01.16.2012 | New America Media | Thandisizwe Chimurenga

Traditionally, the New Year brings resolutions to accomplish a variety
of tasks, but due to California’s budget woes, this new year starts with
bad news in the early childhood education realm. A new pre-kindergarten
program supposed to take off this coming November is in danger of being
gutted before it can be fully implemented.

Last week, Governor
Jerry Brown proposed eliminating funding for Transitional Kindergarten –
a one-year pre-kindergarten program mandated by SB 1381 – to save
$223.7 million dollars, which would support existing education programs
for the school year 2012-2013. SB 1381, the Kindergarten Readiness Act,
is legislation passed in the fall of 2010 to move the kindergarten
admission deadline from December to September.

children are allowed to enroll in kindergarten when school starts in
September so long as they turn 5 by Dec. 2 of the same year. But under
the Kindergarten Readiness Act, children who enter kindergarten in
September must turn 5 by Nov. 1 in the fall of 2012. The cut-off date
will then gradually move to October 1 in Fall 2013 and September 1 in
Fall 2014, where it stays.

Kids who are affected by the change,
meaning children who were born in the last quarter of the calendar year,
can join the Transitional Kindergarten program on a volunteer basis to
prepare themselves for regular kindergarten for the next year.

school district with elementary schools in California is mandated to
offer the program, using the funds they saved from reducing the head
counts in regular kindergarten classes due to a delayed cut-off date.

to the Governor’s proposed budget, eliminating the programs would save
close to $700 million by the year 2014-15, the date the program would be
fully implemented.

But education advocates say that is unacceptable.

California, an Oakland-based nonprofit that advocates increased access
to early learning for children in California, as well as a co-sponsor of
SB 1381, criticized Brown’s decision as “kicking 125,000 students out
of kindergarten.” They said in a statement in response to the Governor’s
budget proposal that the elimination of the program will cause
one-fourth of kindergarten-age students to lose one critical year of
schooling, which will also force parents to scramble for child care or
stop working entirely.

In fact, several school districts in
California have already piloted the Transitional Kindergarten program by
reallocating their own funding.

The Los Angeles Unified School
District is one of them. The district jumpstarted the pilot program back
in 2010-2011 in 36 elementary schools, and expanded the program to 83
classrooms this school year. Principal Bettye Johnson at Western Avenue
Elementary School, a school serving predominantly Latino and African
American kids, volunteered for the program because she felt such a
school readiness program is much needed in her student population.

a 30-year educator with the district, said what Transitional
Kindergarten provides is what parents in more affluent areas have been
doing: intentionally keep their young children from entering
kindergarten until they are better prepared, which will avoid the
possibility of being bullied due to size or maturity level, as well as
to get them more prepared to learn.

“In our community, it’s
been just the opposite,” said Johnson, who noticed for a long time many
parents in her school’s community pushed their kids into kindergarten
even if they were not ready, without paying attention to the obvious
developmental differences between a child born in January and another
child born in November.

“By the time the November child is born,
that January child is walking, eating solid food, probably saying a
couple of words, teething,” said Johnson. “Yet, when school starts, we
put this November child in the same class with the January child and
expect them to perform equally if not better.”

Western Avenue’s
Transitional Kindergarten teacher Shawn Hacker cannot agree more. Being a
kindergarten teacher for the past eight years, Hacker said the program
supports children who may not have had any form of early education.

our community, a lot of kids have not gone to pre-school – they’ve been
home or with babysitters or at daycare where they didn’t get a learning
foundation,” said Hacker.

In fact, according to the early
learning data provided by the American Institutes for Research, in 2010,
out of the 300,000 3- and 4-year-olds in Los Angeles County, only 23.5
percent are in publicly contracted programs, 9.61 percent in Head Start,
and 13.8 percent in state preschool, which totally served less than
half of the preschool-aged children population, leaving many who could
not afford private preschool up in the air. Many of those children came
from low-income Latino and African American communities.

But in
Hacker’s eyes, the program at least provides these kids a steppingstone
and with that, they can fly. “My kids from last year, they’re all
[currently] at the top of their class, and I’m sure they’ll stay that
way for the rest of their careers. So to me, it equals success,” she

However, those who are skeptical about the program said it
should be eliminated without having children being held back or “do
kindergarten twice.”

“Saying that it’s doing over again, that’s
not the case,” said Rayna Elijah, whose daughter, Lauren, was in
Hacker’s transitional kindergarten classroom in 2010. She is now in
regular kindergarten, learning fast.

Born in December, among the
youngest of the year, Elijah said Lauren was a cry baby and was really
shy, but her growth in intellectual ability and maturity was so obvious
after being given a chance to be with other kids her age and learn at
the same level. “I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, as far as
my daughter is concerned,” said Elijah.

But, the Governor’s
proposal left many questions unanswered, especially for districts like
LAUSD, who were well ahead of the game.

Nora Armenta, executive
director of the LAUSD’s Early Childhood Education program, says that
they needed further clarification from the Governor’s office before they
could fully assess what the loss of funding would mean.

not sure if he’s thinking about just the transitional kindergarten
implementation to be postponed or suspended or eliminated, or is he
talking about the entire bill, SB 1381,” she said. Armenta’s office is
providing assistance to the LAUSD’s Office of Curriculum and Instruction
in implementing the district’s transitional kindergarten programs.

of our biggest questions is, will they permit us to at least maintain
the [programs] that we have open? Armenta said. “And, also, be able to
hire our teachers and be able to offer [transitional kindergarten]
placement to our children for next year?”

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