What is transitional kindergarten?
Transitional kindergarten, often referred to as TK, is a free public school program for 4-year-olds who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2. It is essentially an extra public school grade that began in 2012 and is designed to be a bridge between preschool and kindergarten. Children who are enrolled in transitional kindergarten can enroll in a regular kindergarten class the following year. Although there is no mandated curriculum, transitional kindergarten is modeled on a modified kindergarten curriculum that is age and developmentally appropriate. Districts and schools have flexibility with how to implement curriculum, but the California Department of Education states that transitional kindergarten is meant to closely follow guidelines in the California Preschool Learning Foundations developed by the department. Districts are expected to use those guidelines as a foundation for instruction.
Why was transitional kindergarten introduced in California?
Transitional kindergarten came about after the California Legislature approved the “Kindergarten Readiness Act” in 2010. Until then, children who were 4 years old on Sept. 1 could still enroll in regular kindergarten as long as they turned 5 by Dec. 2 of that year. But the new law changed that. Beginning in 2012, children had to be 5 by Sept. 1 to enroll in regular kindergarten. In response, transitional kindergarten was established in 2012 to serve those 4-year-olds who were previously eligible for kindergarten.
Are elementary schools required to offer transitional kindergarten?
Yes. The California Department of Education states that each elementary and K-12 school district must offer transitional kindergarten classes for children whose 5th birthday falls between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2. The requirement covers charter schools, which must provide transitional kindergarten if kindergarten is offered at the same school.
Are children required to attend transitional kindergarten?
No. Transitional kindergarten, or regular kindergarten for that matter, is not mandatory in California. It is up to parents to decide whether to enroll their children in preschool or transitional kindergarten.
How is transitional kindergarten different from preschool?
Transitional kindergarten is part of the California K-12 public school system. The California Department of Education states that all transitional kindergarten teachers must meet the credential requirements to teach regular kindergarten. Teachers in preschools do not have to have a teaching credential issued by the California Teacher Credentialing Commission. Instead, they are certified through other child development programs. Transitional kindergarten classes are designed to prepare children for kindergarten and often use a combination of standards, including the Common Core Standards for kindergarten and the California Department of Education’s Preschool Learning Foundations. The programs are designed to teach social and emotional skills, such as self-confidence and cooperation, and early academic skills, such as numbers and letters.
Why are some schools combining transitional kindergartners and kindergartners in the same classroom?
Schools have the flexibility to determine how they offer transitional kindergarten classes and meet the curriculum needs of those students. Some districts offer standalone transitional kindergarten classes and other districts combine transitional kindergartners and kindergartners in the same classroom. Districts might combine classes because they don’t have enough 4-year-olds who are eligible to create a separate class. Other reasons may be the cost of hiring a teacher for a separate class or a shortage of classroom space. A study by the American Institutes for Research found that small and mid-sized districts were more likely than larger school districts to combine transitional kindergarten with kindergarten. The California Department of Education states that while districts have the option to combine classes, the goal of transitional kindergarten is to provide “separate and unique experiences for transitional kindergarten or kindergarten students.”
Can children who are old enough for regular kindergarten — who are 5 by Sept. 1 — enroll in transitional kindergarten instead?
Yes. However, this is a local decision and varies based on school district guidelines. The California Department of Education states that districts should “establish criteria” to determine whether children who are old enough for kindergarten — meaning they are 5 by Sept. 1 — can enroll in transitional kindergarten. The San Diego Unified School District is an example of a district that allows children who are old enough for kindergarten to enroll in transitional kindergarten. San Diego Unified does not make this decision based on any specific criteria. If a child is old enough to enter kindergarten but a parent prefers that he or she attend transitional kindergarten instead, the principal at the school site will honor their request, a spokesperson said. In Los Angeles Unified School District, a child may attend transitional kindergarten, even if he or she is old enough to enter kindergarten, if a parent requests it.
Districts that allow children who meet the age requirement for kindergarten to enroll in transitional kindergarten must require parents to sign a Kindergarten Continuance form, according to the California Department of Education. This document states that the parent/guardian understands that transitional kindergarten is the first year of a two-year program and that any child enrolled must attend kindergarten the following year. This means that if a child attends transitional kindergarten, he or she cannot advance to 1st grade the next year, simply because of age, but must complete a kindergarten year before advancing to 1st grade. However, some districts such as Alameda City Unified do have an acceleration policy that allows children in TK to transfer to regular kindergarten.
Is transitional kindergarten free? How is transitional kindergarten paid for?
Transitional kindergarten is a part of California’s K-12 public school system and children can attend at no cost. Districts receive funding for TK and K-12 students based on average daily attendance, which is the average number of students in attendance over the course of the school year.
What if a child turns 5 after Dec. 2? Can he or she enroll in transitional kindergarten?
That depends on the school district. As part of the 2015-16 budget legislation, California now allows school districts to enroll children in transitional kindergarten if they turn 5 after Dec. 2 and at some point before the end of the school year in June. This “expanded transitional kindergarten” program means a child who turns 5 on Dec. 3 or later, who previously would not have been eligible for transitional kindergarten, is now eligible to enroll.
However, a big difference is that unlike transitional kindergarten districts are not required to offer expanded transitional kindergarten. A few districts allow children who turn 5 up to mid-March to enrol, while other districts, such as Long Beach Unified and Los Angeles Unified, extend the cutoff dates to June 9 and June 15, respectively. A 2017 EdSource survey found that of the 25 largest school districts in the state, only six offered expanded transitional kindergarten. Some smaller school districts also offer expanded transitional kindergarten. Many districts that do not offer it cited lack of funding and availability of classroom space.
Do children in transitional kindergarten have to meet the same vaccination requirements as in regular kindergarten?
Why isn’t transitional kindergarten open to all 4 year olds, regardless of when they turn 5?
This is a quirk of the program. Efforts have been made in the Legislature to make TK eligible to all 4 year olds, but these have not been successful.