After several hours of testimony the state Senate Education Committee on Wednesday voted in favor of
a bill that would expand transitional kindergarten to all 4-year-olds.
The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where its lead author, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, will have to fight for the nearly $1.5 billion it will take to fully fund the new year of public education. Supporters of Senate Bill 837 outnumbered opponents by about 3-to-1, lining up along the far wall of the committee room and wrapping around the back.
“We cannot stop denying the science,” supporting the importance of early education, Steinberg said.
Parents, public school teachers, superintendents, business leaders and early education activists were among the many supporters who argued that offering a universal kindergarten program to California’s 4-year-olds would result in academic gains for students, economic benefits to society and a reduction in juvenile crime.
“I would suggest (the bill) will have an outpouring of support,” if it moves to the Senate at large, testified David Rattray, vice president of education at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce.
However, there won’t be support from many
principals and superintendents, according to testimony by Adonai Mack, legislative advocate for the Association of California School Administrators. Mack said nine out of 10 administrators in his association opposed making transitional kindergarten for all 4-year-olds a standard public school offering.
“We’re very fearful about the impact of this bill on public education,” Mack testified before the committee.
He said administrators are concerned about creating a new grade level at the same time they are introducing the new Common Core State Standards and switching to a new school funding formula. A lack of appropriate facilities is also a concern, Mack said.
Several private sector child care center directors also testified against
the bill, stating that a migration of 4-year-olds from private preschools into a free public school program could decimate private programs. Cyndee Riding, who runs seven preschools in the Los Angeles area, said districts should be able to contract with private providers to offer transitional kindergarten. Riding pointed to the Los Angeles Universal Preschool program as an example of a publicly funded program that already uses a “mixed delivery” system of public and private providers.
“Why uproot a system that’s working?” Riding asked.
Steinberg agreed that a mixed delivery system would be ideal, and said he was interested in working with private preschool operators to make that possible. “We are open to changes,” Steinberg said. “This must be a collaborative process.“
“We know the first draft of the bill is not always, or ever, the final product,” Steinberg said.