In response to concerns expressed by school officials, the Brown administration has amended its 2012–13 budget proposal to allow districts to enroll thousands of children in kindergarten who will still be 4 years old in November if their districts grant them a special waiver.
In line with Governor Brown’s push to give greater control to local government, and limit state mandates, Department of Finance officials said districts will also be allowed to run a separate “transitional kindergarten” program for 4-year-olds, but it wouldn’t be mandated by the state.
“Given the state’s fiscal circumstances, this is not the time to initiate a new program with significant costs, recognizing that there is a mechanism whereby a child under 5 can still be enrolled,” Department of Finance spokesperson H.D. Palmer said.
However, it is far from clear whether Brown’s new proposal will clarify the confusion over the future of transitional kindergarten.
State Senator Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, the author of legislation requiring districts to begin providing transitional kindergarten this fall, expressed deep unhappiness with the administration’s new plan, describing it as “chaos in the making.”
“More and more districts are perplexed about what the proposal is, and are stymied over what they should be doing,” Simitian said. “School districts are getting whipsawed from proposals from the administration and their understanding that transitional kindergarten is law.”
This is precisely the time that many parents are signing up their children for fall kindergarten. Yet officials in 12 of the state’s largest districts contacted by EdSource last week, before Brown’s latest proposals were announced this week, indicated a wide range of responses to the transitional kindergarten dilemma. Some were going ahead with the program, no matter what, while some had made no decision of any kind. Others had put their plans on hold, pending the required legislative action. Yet others had decided to cancel the program, on the assumption that Brown’s plan would prevail.
In his January budget, Gov. Brown proposed cancelling the implementation of transitional kindergarten this fall, saying the state couldn’t afford it.
One fallout from Brown’s proposal was that some 40,000 children who would normally have attended kindergarten this fall might have been barred from attending any kindergarten program, whether transitional or traditional.
In an interview with EdSource yesterday, Department of Finance officials said under the revised legislation Brown sent to the Legislature this week—the so-called “trailer bill” to his January budget—parents will be able to enroll their children in kindergarten by applying for special waivers from school districts. They emphasized that is something parents with children who are younger than 5 are allowed to do under current law.
The proposals, contained in Section 14 of the trailer bill, allow districts to grant waivers “on a case-by-case basis.” The state would reimburse school districts for the costs of educating them based on the number of children in “average daily attendance,” including 4-year-olds. Officials said school districts would still have the option of running a transitional kindergarten if they chose to, but their assumption is that the “great majority” of school districts would not do so.
The program, which was mandated by legislation (Senate Bill 1381), was supposed to be phased in over the next three years so that eventually only children who had turned 5 by Sept. 1 would be allowed to enroll in kindergarten. Those turning 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2, would be enrolled in transitional kindergarten classes and then be allowed to enroll in regular kindergarten the following school year.
The amended proposal also raises major questions as to whether anywhere close to the $223 million that Brown’s budget projected would actually be saved by cancelling the program. The only way that amount would be saved would be if all 40,000 children estimated to be 4 in November did not attend kindergarten for the entire school year. Even under Brown’s original proposal, children had a right to enroll in regular kindergarten when they turned 5, even if that was after the beginning of the school year.
Officials said it was impossible to say how much would be saved by cancelling transitional kindergarten as a state mandate, and that a new figure on projected savings would be contained in the governor’s May revision of his budget.
Even before Brown’s latest proposal, officials at a dozen of the state’s largest school districts contacted by EdSource indicated a wide range of responses to the governor’s proposal to cancel the program.
Some school districts, such as Lodi Unified, were taking a wait-and-see attitude. Mount Diablo Unified in Concord is doing a cost analysis of its various options and will consider the issue at its Feb. 6 board meeting. Capistrano Unified has not yet made any decision.
Several school districts, such as San Bernardino and Chino, were going to go ahead with transitional kindergarten “contingent on funding.” Long Beach Unified and Twin Rivers Unified near Sacramento indicated that they were going to have a transitional program, one way or another.
“If transitional kindergarten doesn’t happen next year, our district will explore other options to provide education to children turning 5 between Nov. 2 and Dec. 2,” said Trinette Marquis, the district’s director of communication. Marquis said the district would continue its KinderPrep program for children who turn 5 after the kindergarten cut-off date.
Only three out of the 13 districts—San Francisco, Anaheim City and Garden Grove—that responded to EdSource said they were not going to provide transitional kindergarten at all.
Anaheim City had been planning to provide transitional kindergarten for some 600 students at a cost of $3 million, but the program is now “on hold,” according to spokesperson Peter Daniel.
Many uncertainties remain. For that reason, School Services of California, Inc., a leading California consulting firm, is recommending that districts continue to plan for some kind of transitional kindergarten in the fall.
“Since it is unclear whether the Legislature will adopt the governor’s proposal, districts will want to plan for some level of program with a reduced level of resources,” advised School Services’ Jeff Bell and Michael Ricketts. “However, it would also be prudent to make the appropriate considerations and notifications for potential staffing reductions should the governor’s proposal be adopted and resources be constrained.”
For background to this controversy, check out the transitional kindergarten tab on EdSource Extra.
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