California Department of Education officials have made a key change to a faltering program that reimburses new transitional kindergarten teachers for required professional development classes – extending the deadline for counties to distribute the funds to teachers from July 2017 to March 31, 2019.
County child care councils around the state – charged with disbursing the funds from the California Transitional Kindergarten Stipend Program – had complained that the 2017 deadline didn’t allow enough time to design local strategies to recruit and reimburse teachers because the program wasn’t announced until January 2015. Nearly a third of the state’s 58 counties were looking at having to return sizable portions of their allocations because they were unable to reach enough teachers in the time they had to work with.
Now, county officials said, they have the time to make the program work to its intended purpose – assisting teachers who are required to complete early childhood education and development coursework.
“We are very pleased,” said Angie Garling, program administrator for Alameda County’s early care and education program. Due to limited success with outreach, the county had decided to return $137,000 of its $550,661 allocation from the state.
Now, said Garling, “We’re very confident that we’ll be able to expend the full amount of our grant and engage many more transitional kindergarten and preschool teachers.”
Transitional kindergarten teachers who were assigned to classrooms in July 2015 are the priority for funding, but preschool teachers are eligible, too.
“We’re very confident that we’ll be able to expend the full amount of our grant and engage many more transitional kindergarten and preschool teachers,” said Angie Garling, program administrator for Alameda County’s early care and education program.
Cecelia Fisher-Dahms, administrator of the Department of Education’s Quality Improvement Office, had said in early May that only the state Legislature, which created the program, could change the deadline. But in a May 17 email to child care council officials in each county, she said the department “has examined its authority” and would extend the program deadline.
County officials cited several reasons for the lack of teacher participation. They said teachers were reluctant to pay up front for schooling that they wouldn’t get reimbursed for until it was verified they had completed classes, that teachers didn’t know about the requirement, and that teachers did not have time during the school year to take on the extra work.
Counties reporting difficulties included Santa Clara, which was expecting to return $290,000 of the $669,603 it received; Sonoma, which had decided to return $65,000 of its $185,000; and Los Angeles, which got $3.6 million but was on course to spend just 70 percent of its first-year goal.
“This is definitely allowing for the focus to be on a more thoughtful process,” said Ellin Chariton, executive director of school and community services at the Orange County Department of Education.
In a statement issued through a department spokesman this week, Fisher-Dahms said the changes were made in response to requests from child care council officials. She said the 2019 date was chosen because the law requires “transitional teachers to have 24 units in early childhood and/or child development (or equivalent) by August 1, 2020. We looked to extend the funds as far as fiscally feasible toward the 8/1/20 date.”
“The timing just didn’t match up,” said Ellin Chariton, executive director of school and community services at the Orange County Department of Education, referring to the original program timeline. Orange County received $1.1 million and in May said its ”conservative” projection was that it would distribute $300,000 in the first year of the two-year program.
Now, the approach can be less hurried and “more strategic,” Chariton said. “This is definitely allowing for the focus to be on a more thoughtful process.”
Counties may still give back funds that they project not spending, and those funds will be redistributed to counties that can still make use of them. A survey this autumn will determine those redistributions, the Department of Education said.
Fisher-Dahms did not address other issues child care council officials had raised, such as that some counties were interpreting the program’s rules more broadly than others. For example, some have allowed preschool teachers to apply for reimbursements for classes that could be used toward a bachelor’s degree, while other counties concluded that was not permitted. Also, some were using the funds toward conference-like events, while others felt restricted from that.