Will the real Transitional Kindergarten stand up

02.07.2012 | Thoughts on Public Education | Kathryn Baron

It’s getting so that understanding the budgetary machinations of
Transitional Kindergarten requires a master’s degree, or maybe a Little Orphan Annie Secret Decoder Pin.

In the month since Gov. Brown released his 2012-13 budget plan and
recommended canceling Transitional Kindergarten (TK), supporters have
found it hard to keep track of what the administration is proposing and where the savings would come from.

They were further confounded yesterday, when the State Legislative Analyst’s Office released its review
of the Governor’s education budget. Although the LAO seconded the
Governor’s call to eliminate funding for TK, it seemed to contradict
some of the administration’s figures.

“At this point, it seems like the Department of Finance is making it
up as they go along; we’ve had three different versions of the program
in the last four weeks,” said State Senator Joe Simitian.

His bill, SB 1381, which
the Legislature passed in 2010, moved up the entry age for kindergarten
to September 1 from December 1, phasing it in over three years
beginning next fall. It also created the TK program for the children who
turn five during that three-month period and are no longer eligible for
kindergarten. Instead, they would get TK one year and regular
kindergarten the next.

By keeping the age change but
eliminating funding for TK, Gov. Brown estimates the state will save
about $224 million in ADA dollars next year in reduced kindergarten
enrollment. When Sen. Simitian pointed out at a legislative hearing a
few weeks ago that districts would still get the same amount of money
for another year under the declining enrollment program, a Finance
Department official said that had been factored in. Not so, according to
yesterday’s LAO report.  It said the Legislature would al
so have to “make a corresponding change to the ‘declining enrollment’ adjustment.” In other words, eliminate that, too.

Trailing Language

The Administration has been similarly vague on the options for those
four-year-olds whose families first thought they’d be going to
kindergarten, then to Transitional Kindergarten.  As we reported here,
at that same legislative hearing in January, Finance Department
officials initially said that districts could provide TK, but wouldn’t
receive any state funds to pay for it.  Then they said the state would
provide ADA funds once the children turned five.

Sen. Simitian again asked for clarification and it came last week in the budget trailer language, which once again left Sen. Simitian perlexed. It
keeps the age cut-off dates, but lets individual districts decide if
they want to run Transitional Kindergarten programs.  Then the trailer
bill says something that both Sen. Simitian and the group Preschool California
suspect the administration never intended.  It allows school districts
to “admit to a kindergarten at the beginning of the school year, a child
having attained the age of five years at any time during the school
year with the approval of the parent or guardian.”

It also apparently makes the districts eligible for ADA funds even
for the four-year olds.  That’s how it seemed to Sen. Simitian, and
that’s how it appeared to the Legislative Counsel when he asked that
office for an interpretation.

According to Preschool California, over 100 school districts have
either started TK pilot programs on their own, or indicated that they
plan to launch them in the fall despite the Governor’s proposal.  At
least one district, San Francisco Unified, told parents not to bother
enrolling their children for TK, because there won’t be a program
without state funding.

That could create unequal access to education for children, with one
district offering a version of TK, while a neighboring district does
not.   If the latter district is low-income, then there may be an equal
protection violation.   At the very least, said Sen. Simitian, it’s
going to create chaos and anxiety up and down the state.

“I don’t mean to say this with attitude, but I’ve got so much
frustration at this point,” said the Senator.  The legislature already
debated and approved the bill, “and now the administration is trying to
revisit the issue through the budget process. That’s completely
inappropriate,” said  Sen. Simitian, adding that if the governor wants
to change policy, he should introduce a bill like everyone else.

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