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Transitional Kindergarten Gains Support in California

03.14.2012 | Education Week | Julie Rasicot

Some California lawmakers are sending a strong message to the state’s
school districts to move ahead with transitional kindergarten in the
next school year, even though Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed eliminating
the program’s funding.

On Tuesday, the state Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education
Finance voted to reject the governor’s budget proposal to eliminate
transitional kindergarten.

“This is a program that benefits young children and it’s going to
help them succeed all the way through. I believe the cost savings will
be significant in the future because of the readiness and because of
what it is going to be offering to these young children,”
Assembly member Susan Bonilla, chairwoman of the budget subcommittee, said in a release provided by Preschool California, a nonprofit advocacy organization supporting transitional kindergarten.

More than 120 school districts have
been moving ahead with implementing transitional kindergarten, which is
required by state law, even as they remain in limbo about whether
they’d get state money to help pay for it. Others have put plans on hold
as they wait to see what will happen with the state funding.

In January, Brown proposed to save about $223 million by eliminating funding for the program, causing an uproar of protest from school officials, educators and parents. Last month, California Watch reported that Brown introduced additional budget language that
“would allow school districts to decide for themselves whether to offer
the program, with full state funding. Parents and schools would use a
special waiver to enroll students into kindergarten before their 5th
birthday.”

“That means, depending on the legislature’s actions, schools would
either be required to offer transitional kindergarten this fall, or have
a choice. Either way, they would receive funding for the program,” the
web site reported.

That news has only added to the confusion faced by districts, which
are mandated by the state’s 2010 Kindergarten Readiness Act to provide
transitional kindergarten in fall 2012. The law also rolls back the
cutoff date by which children must be 5 to enter kindergarten to Sept.
1, from Dec. 1. Transitional kindergarten, the first year of a two-year
kindergarten program, would provide an additional year of instruction to
help those children who would turn 5 during that three-month period get
ready for regular kindergarten.

Last week, the San Francisco Unified School District announced
it would offer transitional kindergarten at two sites instead of
districtwide because of the continuing uncertainty over whether the
California legislature would mandate and fund the program.

Advocates for transitional kindergarten claim that eliminating the
program would leave as many as 125,000 of the state’s youngest
kindergarten-aged kids with no place to go, as parents scramble to find
preschool or day care for next year.

The legislature is required to approve a budget by July.

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