Significantly altered transitional kindergarten bill passes in the Senate

Credit: Lillian Mongeau/EdSource Today

California Senator Darrell Steinberg

A bill that would make public pre-kindergarten available at no charge to children from California’s lowest-income families passed the state Senate today and heads to the Assembly for debate there.

First introduced with much fanfare in January, SB 837 expands the pre-kindergarten program known as transitional kindergarten. It has been touted as a top priority by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg despite little interest on the part of Gov. Jerry Brown.

“This is at the top of the list. I can’t think of anything more important,” Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said at a news conference announcing the new bill in January.

Transitional kindergarten is a public school program for children who turn 5 in the first few months of the school year. Originally, the bill sought to expand transitional kindergarten to serve all 4-year-olds the year before they enrolled in kindergarten. Changes to the bill language announced last week and introduced yesterday would make transitional kindergarten a targeted program for children who qualify for free or reduced price lunch under the federal poverty guidelines (under $44,000 annual income for a family of four), rather than a universal program.

“This pared down version of the original bill would still cover one half of the 4-year-olds in California, because half of them are low-income,” Steinberg told the Senate during debate today.

Under the new guidelines, 234,000 children are expected to qualify for the program each year, double the current program enrollment. The expanded transitional kindergarten program, to be re-named “California Pre-Kindergarten Program,” is the largest part of a Senate budget proposal that would increase spending on early education every year for the next five years. The existing California State Preschool Program, which serves 3- and 4-year-olds from families making up to 70 percent of the state median income (an annual income of $52,959 for a family of four), would also be expanded under the proposal. Child care vouchers for low-income working families would also increase.  In the first year of the five-year rollout, the Senate’s “Fair Start” budget proposal would cost $378 million.

Senator Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, spoke out against the proposal today, saying the state did not have enough money to experiment with new programs that may or may not increase academic success for students from low-income families. California should spend its limited capital on existing K-12 initiatives, he said.

“I would say this isn’t the highest priority if you want to be data driven,” said Huff, who was out-voted.

The bill, which supporters hope will become a trailer bill to a state budget containing increased spending for early childhood education, now heads to the Assembly.

Education budget subcommittees in both houses have already approved the spending increases that would be needed to fund the new pre-kindergarten program. It will now be up to lawmakers to negotiate with Brown whether the proposed increases in early childhood spending will be included in the final budget. So far, the governor has given no indication he intends to increase early childhood spending.

Lillian Mongeau covers early childhood education. Contact her or follow her @lrmongeau. Subscribe to EdSource’s early learning newsletter, Eyes on the Early Years.

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24 Responses to “Significantly altered transitional kindergarten bill passes in the Senate”

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  1. Judi Thomas on Jun 2, 2014 at 3:19 pm06/2/2014 3:19 pm

    • 000

    Two comments: 1. The voters voted against “Preschool for All” several years ago. Now the legislature is trying a different approach calling it Transitional Kindergarten! Help! We need to replace the legislators who don’t listen to the people they are suppose to represent! 2. Transitional Kindergarten for 4 year olds is worst than “Preschool for All”! At least “Preschool For All” is “Preschool” which is appropriate for 4 year olds. Transitional Kindergarten is taught by Elementary Teachers who in most cases have not had Early Childhood Education Classes. They have not had the education or understanding of Early Child Development that Early Childhood Educators have. (Early Childhood Educators are trained to teach preschool age children.) Therefore, we, again, in California are forcing academics onto younger and younger children without supporting them in developing the foundation to build upon when the academics are introduced. Just because it is stated that they will be developmentally appropriate does not mean that it will be true. In my community, they are offering early childhood workshops to try to get the elementary teachers up to speed to teach Transitional Kindy. When I sent four of my preschool teachers to these same workshops they came back saying that they could have taught the workshop, but that it hardly scratched the surface of what a 4 year old needs. I wish those making decisions for the education of young children, who are preschool age, would think about the reality of what they are doing and whether they will be able to do it with the workforce that they have. Elementary Teachers are educated and trained for elementary age children. Early Childhood Educators are educated and trained for preschool age children. Let’s not think that one can do the job of the other. We are doing our very youngest children a disservice by providing Transitional Kindergarten when what they need is a solid foundation that is established in preschool.


    • Katie Thomas on Jun 5, 2014 at 12:39 pm06/5/2014 12:39 pm

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      I agree, in my district all the transitional teachers are English majors and they want the pre k students to seat on the carpet for 45 minutes with no play, and the students do worksheets all day. Our kids are all in reading intervention by 3rd grade because we r not letting them develop. You can’t take child development out of education. This happened in another country and found it didn’t work.

  2. Joannie Busillo-Aguayo on May 31, 2014 at 11:02 am05/31/2014 11:02 am

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    It is interesting that Senator Huff comments that we cannot afford to experiment with providing early childhood education to low income children because there is insufficient evidence to support the cost-benefit. Yet, we have over 40 years of data documenting the value to society when low- income children participate in high quality, developmentally appropriate early childhood education with parent involvement. Additionally, evidence gathered from neuroscience research shows the importance of high quality early experiences in the first few years. This cannot be an either/or discussion. We cannot think about this in terms of either early childhood or K-12.we need to fully invest in education from birth through college if we are to prepare our youngest citizens for the future workforce. The dichotomous argument of either/or is as outdated as viewing development as gringo either nature/nurture.

  3. Tressy Capps on May 31, 2014 at 8:31 am05/31/2014 8:31 am

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    TRANSPORTATION funding is more important than free daycare. Kids should be able to get to school safely and consistently. Who is the genius who decided only special ed kids need the bus?

  4. Michael G on May 30, 2014 at 6:37 pm05/30/2014 6:37 pm

    • 000

    I am in favor of pre-school for all. The evidence is clear that it is of benefit for all. Note that word *ALL*. If you can’t afford it for everyone you can’t afford it for anyone.

    Making it available for free only for the lower economic groups is a *huge* mistake. It only serves to make the middle class, what’s left of it, feel that not only are they supporting an arrogant, whiney, corrupt, and demanding state and local bureaucracy which gets a retirement the taxpayers who are in debt for it can’t even dream of, they are paying for preschool for half the population and getting no benefit for themselves.

    The Dem legislature seems to be out to alienate as many middle class voter as possible. If the GOP weren’t on some anti-science, anti-woman, anti-everything acid-trip they would take back the legislature 2-1.

    And don’t get me started on the stupid, _stupid_ High Speed Rail boondoggle with it’s massive cost over-runs, nepotism, and general air of pork-for-all. More taxes to go as payback for union support.

    I would gladly vote for higher taxes if I thought I would get anything for it, but looking at international data I see no data that more money makes better schools. I also see no evidence that State Ed schools make better teachers.

    You can fix prop-13 (I agree it needs fixing) when you show public works projects done on time and under budget. C.f.,

    “The largest public works project in California history, the $6.4 billion bridge opened Labor Day weekend some 10 years late and at a cost nearly fivefold the original estimate. After factoring construction bond financing costs, the total price-tag will reach $13 billion.”

    For corruption with school money:

  5. Paul Muench on May 30, 2014 at 3:15 am05/30/2014 3:15 am

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    I assume the existing children who qualify for pre-k would still qualify? So essentially all children born in the later part of the year plus poor children born in first part of the year would qualify. With September still being the dividing line for all children qualifying.


    • Lillian Mongeau on May 30, 2014 at 12:17 pm05/30/2014 12:17 pm

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      So September 1 is now the kindergarten eligibility deadline. ie You must be 5-years-old by Sept. 1 of a given year to enroll in kindergarten. To be eligible for TK, now CPKP, you would have to a) be 4-years-old by Sept. 1 and b) qualify for free or reduced price lunch. The bit about children with birthdays at a certain time would be out the window.

      I’m going to do a longer piece on this next week that will get into more detail about the new program. Stay tuned!

    • el on May 30, 2014 at 10:23 pm05/30/2014 10:23 pm

      • 000

      No, basically, the net effect is that kids who don’t qualify for free or reduced lunch and are born between September and December now have to wait an extra year to attend a public school than they did a few years ago.

      If it expands the opportunity for lower income four year olds to get more services than before, then that’s good, but it’s a dramatic retrenchment of the intent and the promises made with the TK program in terms of making it available for all kids, and also in terms of the promise that families with younger kids wouldn’t be negatively impacted, and I think that’s unfortunate. I also think that excluding the higher income kids from these programs has a negative impact that is not being considered by the legislature.

      • el on May 30, 2014 at 10:24 pm05/30/2014 10:24 pm

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        That was supposed to be a reply to Paul, not sure that’s now it turned out… sorry. Upside-down-and-then threaded comments don’t make much sense to me.

      • Don on May 31, 2014 at 4:06 pm05/31/2014 4:06 pm

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        El, I don’t believe the intent was ever to add on a 14th year of universal public preschool. Back of envelope calculations reveal that to be a multibillion dollar expense. At $10K/per pupil and an approx. half million new pupils – that’s 5 with 9 zeros. And even if it is half that much it is still many times more that the $300 some odd million. I say half because that is also a ball park figure for California’s FRPM count. Feeling lazy but you get the point. As you alluded to – this was sold as universal but the reality is that only a small minority of students will benefit by the program. And that takes us to the next question: What will be the instructional nature of this program? Where will California find enough teachers with early childhood credentials?

  6. Andrew on May 29, 2014 at 8:00 pm05/29/2014 8:00 pm

    • 000

    Gary, you and I appear to agree on the dismal state of education funding in California. California is last or near last in the nation in any number of measures relating to educational funding. For example, compared to the national average, California has half the national average of high school teachers compared to student population. This results in brutally overworked teachers and huge class sizes.

    My question is this. The state legislature and governor’s office are in the hands of Democrats. The CTA and CA teachers unions have a lot of money and influence. Why, then, is educational funding in California so dismal, and worse than a lot of financially poorer states with conservative dominated legislatures and weak unions? I see the problem you see. I just don’t understand how it is happening and why California doesn’t at least fund education at the level of the national average?


    • Gary Ravani on May 30, 2014 at 4:27 pm05/30/2014 4:27 pm

      • 000


      All very good questions, and all have complicated answers.

      Let’s begin with the big one: Prop 13. Most of the states you talk about (and I don’t know of ones that are near the top in funding and yet have low percentages of unionized teachers) use property taxes as the base funding for many government activities including schools. It is stable funding as opposed to the more volatile income taxes that CA depends on. If you look at the original funding behind prop 13 it was not a bunch of mythical oldsters being thrown into the streets because of high property taxes, it was business interests. And business (commercial property) has been the primary beneficiary. In fairness some modifications should likely be made to residential taxes also, as new buyers can be taxed at many times the amount as nearby neighbors with a like house. But the most obvious change to Prop 13 is what is commonly called the split roll, where high value commercial property is taxed at a more reasonable rate and leaving resident more or less alone.

      Prop 13 also carried other burdens to the state revenue stream. You can lower taxes (which has been done) with a simple majority, but raising taxes take 2/3rds. A heavy burden.

      CA also has had (until Prop 25 of a few years ago) Constitutional provisions requiring a super majority in the legislature to pass taxes and a budget. As I said the budget issue is now resolved by prop 25, but the tax issue remains.

      The public has been very reluctant, according to polling, to give the legislature authority to raise taxes or alter the provisions of prop 13. There are some signs that public attitudes may be changing. That being said, it is not at all untrue to say Californians demand high levels of service from all government sectors but is very reluctant to pay for those services.

      • Gary Ravani on May 30, 2014 at 4:56 pm05/30/2014 4:56 pm

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        The conservative movement in this country has, since just after the election loss of Barry Goldwater, been very involved in setting up “institutions” and “think tanks” [sic] to gin up opposition to taxes as well as government itself. These groups are constantly creating faux “studies’ and op/eds criticizing the public sector, public employees, and public schools in particular.

        The fact is CA is a “high moderate” state in terms of taxes, about 10th or 12th in the US, but is 2nd in cost of loving expenses. The expenses can also be seen as “cost of providing services.” including education. This is why in “unadjusted dollars” CA ranks about 32nd is dollars spent per student for K-12, but 49th to 50th in adjusted dollars.

        All of the above, connecting the dots, show that significantly increasing revenue, and bringing CA school’s spending to just the national average, is a heavy lift. Few politicians are prepared to stand up and face the charge of being “tax and spend.” But, of course, that’s what you have to do to get services. The unions worked mightily to get Democrats a “super majority” in the legislature. As soon as they did, political leadership started talking about “not being reckless” with the new power and never using it to raise taxes. A heavy, heavy lift. The most reasonable tax in the world is the oil extraction tax. CA is the only oil prodding entity in the world that doesn’t tax the public’s oil coming out of the ground. And yet that tax legislation was, within the last week or so, sent to the “suspense file,” (aka, to die an untimely death). If you poke around the internet and look at corporate lobbying vs. union lobbying you will find the unions often outmatched. And now, of course, we have “dark money,” from unknown sources bringing forth initiatives to undermine working people. A heavy lift.

        Prop 30 is an example of unions working to at least stem the bleeding and end education cuts.

        • FloydThursby on May 31, 2014 at 12:18 am05/31/2014 12:18 am

          • 000

          Gary, you’re right about the fake studies done by the right, but the union has also said studies show there is no difference in teacher quality and it makes no difference in student outcome and seniority is more effective than test scores and detailed evaluations by principals in determining quality. It goes both ways, all false studies are wrong. We have to look at the scientific truth.

          As for Prop 13, who cares where the money comes from, we are 4th in overall tax burden including property tax, after the Tri-State Area States of NY/NJ/CT. We spend way too much on prisons but pensions are out of control for police and prison guards and many other sectors. Many are on 30-40k pensions which should go up. but some are on 100k pensions, 150k even over 200k. Maybe we should make the maximum pension 90k but the minimum 60k. When people are no longer working we don’t need to give some way more than others. Police pensions are worse because they spike salaries. California blows so much money on things other states don’t, and then spends far too little on schools which could help people not need all the welfare they need now if they educated everyone well.

          • Andrew on May 31, 2014 at 6:46 am05/31/2014 6:46 am

            • 000

            Might be wrong, but I took the entire budget for the California Dept of Corrections/Prisons, added it to the education budget, and the total still wasn’t enough when divided per pupil to bring California educational spending per student up to the national average. Yet California is collecting far more than the national average in state and local taxes per capita, just not spending it on education.

        • Andrew on May 31, 2014 at 6:22 am05/31/2014 6:22 am

          • 000

          I understand that Prop 30 limited California property taxes. But when I look at tables of per capita property tax collections by state, California doesn’t seem to be faring too badly. For 2010, California is shown as collecting $1,450 per capita in state and local property taxes, making it 19th from the top in the nation, Prop 30 notwithstanding. And of course, California has at or near highest personal income tax collections per capita and similarly high sales taxes, added to property tax revenues.

          Our neighbor Oregon spends significantly more on education per student than California. But Oregon collected $1,292 per capita in property taxes, and it has no sales tax. Per capita income in California was $44,980 and it was $38,786 in Oregon. Total state and local taxes collected per capita in California were $3,025.38, and $2,2231.04 in Oregon.

          It is hard for me to escape the conclusion that California is taking in the money and is obviously spending it, but isn’t spending it on education.

          I do understand that the boom and bust cycle in California makes income tax revenues fluctuate. But even during the relatively recent “booms” California educational funding was dismal, and during the busts it was even worse. During the booms the money was coming in. Why wasn’t it spent proportionally on education? Not the money that wasn’t collected. The money that was and is there?

          • Floyd Thursby on May 31, 2014 at 11:11 am05/31/2014 11:11 am

            • 000

            Great point, Prop 13 is the scapegoat but we need to reduce spending in many other areas others don’t want to talk about. Police from New York are flocking here because we pay over 50% more, actually about 65, than in Manhattan, an equally expensive place. As for prisons, it is a factor. We have 10 x the percentage in prison as most European nations, and other first world nations (Japan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea). In California, there are over 170,000 in prison. They are not all stone cold killers or molesters or rapists or gangsters. At 170,000 and $50,000 to jail each one, that’s nearly nine billion a year, and easily is adding in jail costs. We could have saved over $100 million a year eliminating the death penalty and that could have gone to schools, but it lost. I checked the budget and it is $8,961,368,000. With $3 million kids in public school, that’s about $3,000 per kid in public school. If we imprisoned double the number Europe did, we could add $2400 per pupil. If we cut it in half, which would merely mean we had five times the percentage in prison as most European nations, we could add $1500.Per child. Some are awful, I don’t want Manson running around, but in the Netherlands everything is legal and they have a fraction our violent crime. It’s the bad schools that causes the crime as hopeless people turn to it. I want my tax dollars paying for one on one tutors for poor children of all races to close the achievement gap, not locking up people for consensual adult drug use or consensual sex or other petty crimes. We need to decriminalize more things and reduce this. And this is just the prisons, it’s far more adding in police costs, court costs, parole, etc. In SF we spend 48% of the average police salary on the average teacher salary, vs. 73% in San Diego. Crime is down 70% but the jail and police budget 0, since the early ’90s. It’s way out of hand.

            • Floyd Thursby on May 31, 2014 at 2:04 pm05/31/2014 2:04 pm

              • 000

              I was wrong on the student numbers, it’s 6 million, so it’s half per student, but it could still make a difference. However, that’s just the prison budget which could easily provide 750-1200 a pupil, 1200 while still imprisoning double the percentage as other first world nations. Add in police, courts, capping pensions at 90 or even 120k, some are 200k plus, I think 90k, you should be able to have saved some money by that age. There are lots of areas which are wasteful. The California health plan could now be replaced by Obama Care spending, many areas. There is a lot of waste, but there are powerful interests behind the waste. If they just made the raise contingent on better attendance they could give teachers a bigger raise and save money by cutting the cost of substitute teachers.

          • Gary Ravani on May 31, 2014 at 2:22 pm05/31/2014 2:22 pm

            • 000


            To put it in perspective, think of it this way. CA’s K-12 spending is around 40% of the state budget. When “adjusted for regional cost-of-living” that puts us at 49th or 50th in the nation. When “adjusted for regional cost-of-living” where does that put the other 60% of the budget? Recall CA as having the 2nd highest cost-of-living of the 50 states.

            When comparing property taxes you have to put in the comparison of property values in CA, some of the highest in the nation, and that factors into cost-of-providing services. Public employees do need to live in an abode even if that sorely aggravates the anti-tax lobby.

            So the question is: What should property taxes be if they could support public services as they do in other states? What the taxes are is distorted by Prop 13 (not Prop 30). A “comparison” between Oregon and CA is classic apples and artichokes.

            When you look at levels of public service provided in all sectors in CA you do not find CA ranking very high, particularly in services provided to children. And CA has a very high load of poor children.

            As far as I am aware prison spending per capita ranks rather high in CA compared to other states, but it is not a particularly significant part of state spending even if it is a particularly wasteful part.

            Another perspective to consider is the highly debated public pension issue. Along with certain enhancements to pensions done in the late 1990s was a complementary series of tax breaks to business. There have been more tax breaks over time forced by Republicans who, because of that weird super-majority requirement for budgets. The total costs of public pension per year are about 70% of the total cost to state revenues in tax breaks, dodges and out of state (or nation) shelters.

            And then there was the Governator’s ill considered cut to motor vehicle taxes that put a yearly multi-billion $$ hole in the budget compounded over time.

            All in all, CA has a revenue stream problem, not a spending problem

  7. Gary Ravani on May 29, 2014 at 5:40 pm05/29/2014 5:40 pm

    • 000

    Currently CA’s funding of K-12 education is last (or near last) in the nation. In pre-K education the state does a little better, coming in a little below average at around # 27.

    CA is the wealthiest state in the union and has around the 9th largest economy in the world (if ranked as an independent economic entity). And Mr. Huff asserts the state “does not have enough money.” Really?

    I suppose in a literal sense that is true. The largest part of money available in the state is in the hands of a relative few and not currently available to use to meet the needs of the state’s population. That should be remedied.

    Just how low in terms of support for education, children’s needs, help for the poor, infrastructure, etc., does the state have to sink in order to satisfy the likes of Sen Huff? Just a rhetorical question.


    • FloydThursby on May 30, 2014 at 12:38 am05/30/2014 12:38 am

      • 000

      You make a great point Gary. I usually don’t agree with you but you make a great point, the money is there, we just need the will. How about only jail people for crimes involving victims? I’d rather pay tutors and teachers than pay to jail addicts or potheads or johns or janes or bookies or whoever. 25 years for stealing a pizza? 3 strikes, etc., if we jailed only double the percentage of the population England does, we’d cut our prisons budget by over 60%. I could talk about bombs but that’s federal. Just combine the best of the libertarian laws of Colorado, Alaska and Nevada and educate our young.

  8. el on May 29, 2014 at 5:04 pm05/29/2014 5:04 pm

    • 000

    Can you explain more how the two programs – TK and the state preschools – would coexist?


    • Lillian Mongeau on May 30, 2014 at 12:14 pm05/30/2014 12:14 pm

      • 000

      Yes! I’m working on a bigger story explaining this new proposal and how it would work for next week. I’m sure you’ll be one of its first readers when it runs 😉

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