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Uncertain status for transitional kindergarten

01.14.2012 | The Daily Journal | Heather Murtagh

For years, little ones turning 5 by the year’s end knew the fall would bring a new challenge for them — kindergarten.

That’s
set to change this year, and that change itself is in limbo. 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 was
supposed to be offered for children with birthdays after Nov. 1 — the
new program called for state funding. That funding is in limbo as Gov.
Jerry Brown’s budget proposal calls to cut $223.7 million which would
result in the elimination of transitional kindergarten. Savings,
according to the Department of Finance, will be used to support existing
programs.

Early education advocates, however, argue the proposed
cut would be a step back in the effort to better prepare children for
school. Locally, districts are put in limbo as planning for the
transitional kindergarten program will continue even though it may not
start in the fall.

“We’re moving backwards when we deny access to
public education to kids at a time when we know we need to be doing more
to prepare our children” for growing educational demands, said
Preschool California Executive Director Catherine Atkin.

Cutting the
funding for the transitional kindergarten will delay access to
education for an estimated 125,000 students this fall. Atkin said it
would be the largest number of students turned away from public school
in the nation’s history.

Transitional kindergarten was supposed to
be a gift of time, she said. Students who turn 5 later in the year often
struggle to keep up with the older students in the class. The proposed
cut will keep them from the preparation. In addition, the state is
proposing reducing funding to child-care spots further reducing options
for low-income families.

Locally, a push to increase preschool
enrollment has been successful over the last 10 years. However,
according to the SanMateo County Office of Education, “the number of
publicly subsidized preschool spaces has not kept pace with the number
of low-income students and an estimated 4,500 preschoolers are still
lacking access to preschool.”

Even with the increased spaced, data
from the 2010 School Readiness and Student Achievement Longitudinal
Analysis of students in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties reported only
57 percent of local children enter kindergarten prepared for school.

“Kicking
125,000 kindergartners out of school hurts kids, parents, teachers and
our schools,” state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said at a gathering
of early childhood advocates in Santa Clara Friday. “We need to work
together to make sure that this short-sighted budget proposal doesn’t
become a reality.”

Simitian added that transitional kindergarten is
currently required by law. Also, the funding mechanism, he argued,
doesn’t allow the governor to simply make a line item cut. The law would
need to be changed by a vote of both houses of the Legislature.

he
proposal comes when most districts are starting to ask families to
register for kindergarten. Families with children who turn 5 after the
Nov. 1 deadline are being asked by most districts to register just in
case funding for transitional kindergarten comes through.

In the San
Carlos Elementary School District, for example, 12 children have been
registered who fit into this transitional kindergarten limbo.

Lynette
Hovland, director of curriculum, instruction and accountability for San
Carlos, explained the district had done a bit of work on the
requirements of implementing the new rules. For example, a policy moving
up the age requirement will go before the board later this month. A
task force — including principals, kindergarten teachers from each site
and a preschool teacher — were supposed to start meeting later this
month to discuss curriculum and assessments. With the looming budget
cuts, a meeting has been postponed until at least the board has a chance
to discuss the possible lack of funding for transitional kindergarten.

“We’re not sure, if it’s not funded, if we’re going to have the ability to fund it ourselves,” she said.
Until a decision is made, Hovland is recommending parents to register their children.

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


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