Opposition to Brown proposal to postpone transitional kindergarten grows

January 9, 2012

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Two boys off to kindergarten ~ Photo by Jay Yohe

Two boys off to kindergarten ~ Photo by Jay Yohe

Child care advocates and leading educators are vigorously protesting the proposal in Governor Brown’s January budget to postpone, perhaps indefinitely, “transitional kindergarten” for 4-year-olds due to go into effect this fall.

In a tough response on its website, Preschool California, a nonprofit advocacy organization, called for “saving kindergarten” in California.  It also ran letters from superintendents of many of California’s largest school districts including San Diego, Long Beach, Oakland and Fresno, as well as the Los Angeles Unified School District board president, all in essence calling on Brown to reconsider his proposal.

“Gov. Brown’s January budget proposal includes kicking 120,000 kids out of school over the next three years,” Preschool California declared.”This is a devastating blow for California’s young children. Cutting kindergarten is a lose-lose-lose-lose for California’s children, parents, teachers and schools.” 

Graphic courtesy Preschool California

The 120,000 figure is the group’s estimate of the number of children excluded from kindergarten should the transitional kindergarten law be delayed indefinitely, instead of being phased in over the next three years as required by state law.

Under legislation authored by Senator Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto (SB1381), during the coming school year  an estimated 40,000 students who turned 5 in December were no longer going to be eligible to enroll in regular kindergarten, but would be able to enroll in transitional kindergarten instead.  The following year, the same would apply to 40,000 children who turned 5 in November,  and to the 40,000 students turning 5 in October in the year thereafter.

“This is the largest number of kids ever kicked out of public school in the nation’s history,” the group claims. By “kicking out” the group presumably refers to children who would have been eligible to enroll, not the children who are already enrolled in kindergarten.

What has especially angered child care advocates is that an estimated 40,000 4-year-olds who have not yet turned 5 by November would be barred from attending regular kindergarten if the Legislature enacts the changes Brown is proposing  These are children who will still be 4 in November, and would normally have attended regular kindergarten had the Legislature not chosen to offer them transitional kindergarten classes instead.

Over the past 25 years, there have been a dozen or more unsuccessful efforts to approve legislation limiting kindergarten to children whose 5th birthday falls on or before September 1. Changing the eligibility date would have brought California in line with the practice in most other states.

Brown’s budget does not make it explicit that he intended to change what has been a longstanding practice to allow 4-year-olds who have not turned 5 by December 1 to attend kindergarten. That has led some childcare advocates to wonder whether he or his staff were entirely aware of the consequences of deferring implementation of transitional kindergarten, and projecting a savings of $223 million.

To capture those savings, school districts that would normally have received about $6,000 for each 4-year-old child in “average daily attendance” would not receive those funds, and thus contribute to their already considerable budget challenges.

A Department of Finance officials told EdSource that the administration was fully aware of the implications of  its proposal. Even without transitional kindergarten, they said the change in the eligibility age for kindergarten was “good policy.”    At the same time, they said any change would require action by the Legislature.

A 2008 Public Policy Institute of California report indicated that moving the kindergarten cut-off date to September 1 would likely increase test scores, because older children on average performed better academically. But such a chance could also widen the achievement gap between low-income and more affluent students, the report contended.

SOURCE: Public Policy Institute of California, 2008

The budget math around transitional kindergarten is counterintuitive. This year, and for the next 13 years, there would be no additional cost to the state.  That is because the estimated 40,000 children who would have been eligible to attend transitional kindergarten this fall would have most likely have attended regular kindergarten if the  law establishing transitional kindergarten had not been in place.

The first additional cost to the state would be 13 years from now (2025) when the students in the first transitional kindergarten class reach their senior year in high school—their 14th year of publicly supported education, compared to the 13 years that most Californians are typically eligible for.

Compounding the problem, childcare advocates say, is that children older than 4 years and 9 months would not be eligible for state subsidized child care, because they would be expected to sign up for regular kindergarten. Finance officials said that a change would need to be made to the  preschool age cutoffs requirement to make it conform with any changes in kindergarten eligibility.

Another barrier is that the Brown budget calls for eliminating 70,000 child care slots, which would add to the scarcity of child care availability, even if the age eligibility rules for subsidized childcare were changed by the Legislature.

The text in the letters to Brown from education leaders and others were mostly identical. But in a handwritten note to Brown on one of them,  Bill Taylor, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, wrote, “It is imperative that we not pull the rug from 120,000 kindergartners. The early years are the most vital and the children who will be affected disproportionately will be children of color.”

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