After a year’s delay, many charter schools will begin offering transitional kindergarten classes in the fall. There had been some disagreement with the California Department of Education over whether charters were required to offer the new program for children who turn five in the first few months of the school year.
While school districts rolled out the transitional programs at the beginning of this academic year, many charters did not. The state’s two largest charter advocacy groups said last spring that the law does not explicitly require schools to offer the program as long as they don’t request state funding for transitional kindergarten students.
“We continue to be of the opinion that it’s an option, albeit a very attractive one for most schools,” said Eric Premack, the executive director of the Charter Schools Development Center, which supports and advocates for California charter schools.
The California Charter Schools Association, a larger charter advocacy and support network, concurred and also advised its members that they were not legally required to offer transitional kindergarten.
The California Department of Education, however, does not consider the program optional. “Each elementary or unified school district must offer transitional kindergarten and kindergarten classes for all children eligible to attend,” the state posted on a web page answering questions about transitional kindergarten. In July, the State Board of Education again indicated that it did not consider the program optional when it rejected waiver requests from nine school districts and one charter school hoping to delay implementation of transitional kindergarten, EdSource Today reported.
“The California Department of Education maintains that if a charter school offers kindergarten, then it must offer transitional kindergarten,” department spokesperson Tina Jung said in an email. “If any charter school has questions about this, they can call our Charter School Division.”
However, the board of education has not taken action against any of the large charter networks, including Aspire Public Schools, KIPP and Rocketship Education, that chose not to offer transitional kindergarten this school year. Jung said the department had not received any complaints about charters not offering the program.
The three large charter organizations will roll out transitional kindergarten programs in fall 2013.
“I think this is a great program. I love that we can serve our students even earlier,” Elise Darwish, the chief academic officer of the Aspire Public Schools charter network, wrote in an email.
The transitional programs are offered for children who turn 5 after Sept. 1, the state’s new kindergarten registration cutoff date, but before Dec. 1, the previous registration deadline. Transitional kindergarten is being rolled out over three years on a staggered schedule based on when children turn 5.
Darwish said her 12,000-student program did not offer transitional kindergarten in the 2012-13 school year because of confusion regarding funding and program requirements. The future of transitional kindergarten was in question as late as last spring for both charter and traditional schools because Gov. Jerry Brown’s January budget proposal did not contain funding for the program. Ultimately, funding was provided on a per-student basis.
Aspire will offer the program at its 24 elementary campuses in the form of multi-age classrooms for both kindergarten and transitional kindergarten students, with age-appropriate instruction for each. This is a route many smaller school districts have followed when too few students qualify for the transitional kindergarten to justify a stand-alone classroom.
KIPP Los Angeles will also offer transitional kindergarten in multi-age classrooms next year. The national charter network has four elementary schools in southern California and last year none of the program’s enrolled kindergarten students had birthdays that qualified them for transitional kindergarten services.
The Redwood City-based Rocketship charter schools, also offering transitional kindergarten for the first time, will offer a half-day, stand-alone class at two of its San Jose elementary schools for the children who qualify for transitional kindergarten – those who will turn five in October and November 2013.
Many smaller charter schools, such as Cornerstone Prep Academy in San Jose, did provide a transitional kindergarten option for qualified students, though they had to be creative in figuring out how to do so. The K-6 school enrolled its students in the Franklin-McKinley school district’s transitional kindergarten program with the understanding that they would move to Cornerstone the following fall.
“Partnering with our district was the best choice as we could offer a TK option to our parents without making drastic changes to our facility or enrollment,” Cornerstone Executive Director Shara Hegde said in an email.
In the end, Premack said, many of the charter school leaders he works with weren’t sure what was so special about transitional kindergarten, a program many public school leaders have hailed as a key intervention for children who would otherwise start kindergarten behind their peers.
Many charter schools were already offering highly differentiated instruction for children at different academic levels within the same classroom, Premack said. “A lot of them when they look at (transitional kindergarten) they think, ‘What’s the big whoop?‘”