UPDATE: The State Board rejected all requests for waivers from Transitional Kindergarten. See this EdSource “Quick Hit” for more details.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s attempt to eliminate funding for Transitional Kindergarten created so much confusion that a handful of school districts sought waivers from it out of fear they would have to bear the cost of the program.
The State Board of Education will consider those waiver requests at its meeting today, even though TK, as it is commonly referred to in the field, survived the governor’s attempt to de-fund the new program, making the districts’ concerns moot. The California Department of Education has recommended that the State Board reject all of the waivers.
Transitional Kindergarten is essentially a second year of kindergarten that’s geared toward younger children, the kids with fall birthdays. They often struggle in regular kindergarten, which has become more academic in recent years due to increased emphasis on preparing even the youngest students for the world of high-stakes testing and accountability.
Nine school districts and a charter school in Riverside County have asked to delay implementation of TK for one year. They range in size from the 5,600-student Perris Elementary School District to Moreno Valley Unified, with more than 36,000 students.
As the similar language in their waiver requests illustrates, district officials met with each other over the past few months to discuss the situation.
“We do not have the resources to pay for these costs up front without a guarantee of receiving ADA for the Transitional Kindergarten students,” wrote Hemet Unified School District. “The district does not have the fiscal resources to pay for the expenses of the program without a guarantee of receiving ADA funding for the Transitional Kindergarten students,” maintained Moreno Valley Unified in its appeal to the Department of Education. (ADA refers to state tuition payments based on student attendance.)
Val Verde Unified Assistant superintendent Michelle Richardson said district officials were planning on flying up to Sacramento today to plead their case, until they learned that the California Department of Education recommended rejection of all nine waivers. Richardson said they always intended to run TK, but sought a waiver because they were concerned they didn’t have enough time to develop a high-quality program by the start of the school year.
“Here’s what happened. When all of the insanity ensued in Sacramento and it was on and it was off, it was on and it was off, we followed the governor saying it was off. Then the Legislature said yes, but we lost time,” Richardson explained.
Several other districts are saying they are no longer pursuing the waivers now that money for Transitional Kindergarten has been approved. However, since they did not officially withdraw the requests, the State Board must still vote on them.
“We’re not pursuing the waiver anymore,” said Martinrex Kedziora, assistant superintendent of Moreno Valley Unified School District. “The waiver was due to financial uncertainty.” Kedziora said the district never had any issues with the idea of TK; in fact, they support it. “Anytime you give kids more opportunity in school they do better,” he said. “I can’t wait for it to begin.”
Temecula Valley Unified got tangled in the same misunderstanding over funding. Andree Grey, the director of curriculum instruction and assessment, said when they applied for the waiver “it was during the time when there was so much turmoil about funding, we applied for the waiver just on that unknown situation that was happening.” Since then, the district has enrolled 61 students in TK and handed out paperwork to another 86 families.
The future of TK was thrown into the wind earlier this year when Gov. Brown recommended eliminating funding for it in his 2012-13 budget proposal. Even though the program will serve kids who would otherwise be in regular kindergarten, the governor eyed cutting the $132 million that would move from kindergarten to TK to help fix the budget deficit.
Over the next few months, as it became clear that the Legislature wasn’t interested in killing the program, Gov. Brown offered weekly variations. Lawmakers finally ended the discussion last month when they approved a state budget that includes funding for Transitional Kindergarten.
The Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, or Senate Bill 1381, authored by Democratic State Senator Joe Simitian of Palo Alto, raised the age for admission to kindergarten and required school districts to establish Transitional Kindergarten for the estimated 125,000 children who would no longer be eligible for regular kindergarten.
The bill phases in the new age requirements over three years. For the upcoming 2012-13 school year, children will have to turn five by November 1 to enroll in kindergarten. The following year it moves to October 1, and then up to September 1 for 2014-15 and on. Until then, California had one of the latest kindergarten cutoff dates in the country, allowing children to enroll even if they wouldn’t turn five until December 2 of that school year.
Simitian is hoping to stave off any more confusion by going before the State Board today to explain the specifics of the bill to members and to school district officials, some of whom, according to the Department of Education, are still submitting waiver requests.