ASHLEY HOPKINSON/EDSOURCE TODAY
Four-year-old student, Alan, mimics the movements to a song about numbers during a pre-kindergarten program at East Oakland Pride Elementary.

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?

Yes.

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.

This report was updated on Sept. 7, 2019.

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  1. Anand 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I have applied for TK in a school district but am on the waiting list so far? What shall I do now? Do I need wait for school to get back to me ?

    Replies

    • Zaidee Stavely 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

      Hi Anand, How old is your child? Children who will turn 5 between Sep. 2 and Dec. 2 should be admitted at the beginning of the school year.

  2. Yuliana Michel 1 month ago1 month ago

    Hello,

    My daughter’s 5th birthday is Sept 2 and her PK teacher wrote a letter stating she may start K in the of the school year. Can she still be denied to start?

    Replies

    • Zaidee Stavely 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      Hi Yuliana, It depends on the school district.

  3. Jacqueline Erazo 1 month ago1 month ago

    My son was born 08/14/15 and I was told he was not allowed to start kinder 2020 because the cutoff for that was June, that he needed to go to TK. Is that correct?

    Replies

    • Zaidee Stavely 1 month ago1 month ago

      Hi Jacqueline. Any child who turns 5 on or before September 1, 2020, is eligible for kindergarten in Fall 2020, so your son is eligible to begin in the fall of next year.

  4. Vibha 2 months ago2 months ago

    Is there an assessment/test that a kid can take to get enrolled in K instead of TK. My kids birthday is on 10/15/2015 but he is ahead of his class (per the pre-school’s assessment). I feel if he goes into TK , he will not be challenged enough.

    Replies

    • Zaidee Stavely 2 months ago2 months ago

      Hi Vibha. No, your child will not be eligible for kindergarten at the beginning of the year in 2020. However, some school districts (not all) may allow a student whose birthday is after Sept. 1 to move onto kindergarten mid-year or move onto first grade after attending a year of TK, but they cannot start kindergarten at the beginning of the year, and the districts generally have requirements to accelerate or skip a grade. For … Read More

      Hi Vibha. No, your child will not be eligible for kindergarten at the beginning of the year in 2020. However, some school districts (not all) may allow a student whose birthday is after Sept. 1 to move onto kindergarten mid-year or move onto first grade after attending a year of TK, but they cannot start kindergarten at the beginning of the year, and the districts generally have requirements to accelerate or skip a grade. For example, districts often require a student to be 5 years old, and have attended TK for a certain amount of time, and to be assessed both for social-emotional and academic skills. It depends on the school district.

  5. kalai 3 months ago3 months ago

    Hi my son’s birthday is on February 3rd 2016 ,is he eligible for Transitional kindergarten in 2020

    Replies

    • Zaidee Stavely 3 months ago3 months ago

      Hi kalai. That depends on the school district. Many school districts only allow students to enroll in TK if they will turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2. However, some school districts, including LAUSD, Oakland Unified, Long Beach Unified, and many others, allow students to enroll in TK or “expanded TK” if they will turn 5 before the end of the school year.

  6. Raji 3 months ago3 months ago

    My daughter is turning 4 by Sept. 30. Currently she is going to preschool. I’m planning to put her in TK for this year. As of now, I didn’t register her. Is it possible for her to be admitted for this year?

    Replies

    • Zaidee Stavely 3 months ago3 months ago

      Hi Raji, I don’t think your daughter is eligible for TK. Children are eligible for TK during the school year when they will turn 5. That means your daughter will be eligible for TK next school year, in Fall 2020. However, some school districts do offer Pre-K programs for 4-year-olds. Check with your district’s early childhood education office.

  7. Kimmie 3 months ago3 months ago

    My son’s birthday is 10/3. He is attending TK at the moment. We initially thought TK would be great for him; however, he is insufficiently challenged and may adversely affect his interest in learning as he is already capable of demonstrating the skills & knowledge from TK. Can we make a request to the school for him to skip TK to enter Kindergarten?

    Replies

    • Zaidee Stavely 3 months ago3 months ago

      Hi Kimmie, Some school districts (not all) may allow a TK student to move onto kindergarten mid-year or move onto first grade after attending TK, but the districts generally have requirements to accelerate or skip a grade. For example, some school districts require a student to be 5 years old, and have attended TK for a certain amount of time, and to be assessed both for social-emotional and academic skills. It depends on the school district.

  8. Leticia Cisneros 3 months ago3 months ago

    My daughter’s birthday is Oct. 16, 2013. What grade should be doing? She did preschool and TK last year. Now they said she’ll do Kindergarten. I thought she will be starting 1st grade?

    Replies

    • Zaidee Stavely 3 months ago3 months ago

      Hi Leticia. If your daughter did TK last year, she should do kindergarten this year. The point of TK is to give children an extra year before kindergarten.

      • Bhanu 2 months ago2 months ago

        What is the point if the kid is going to Kindergarten after attending TK?
        I believe the kid can go to Kindergarten even if she goes to preschool 2 years. I don’t see any added advantage to kid’s family by going to TK. Am I missing anything here?

        • Zaidee Stavely 2 months ago2 months ago

          Hi Bhanu. The point of TK is to give children who were born in the fall an extra year of kindergarten. Before, children had to turn 5 by Dec. 2 in order to go to kindergarten. Now, children have to turn 5 by Sept. 1 to go to kindergarten. TK was created in part to serve those children who would have previously been able to go to kindergarten under the previous dates.

  9. Marlie Freeman 3 months ago3 months ago

    My daughter’s birthday is 1/27/15. Would expanded TK be an option for her?
    Also, is there a way to find out what the rules of our school district are?

    Replies

    • Zaidee Stavely 3 months ago3 months ago

      Hi Marlie. Expanded TK might be an option for your daughter. It depends on your school district. You can look up rules with the school district’s enrollment office.

  10. Yvonne Martini 4 months ago4 months ago

    Once a child is enrolled in TK (and attends for a week), is that child allowed to die-enroll or exit TK?

    Replies

    • Zaidee Stavely 3 months ago3 months ago

      Hi Yvonne. Neither TK or kindergarten are mandatory in California. A parent or guardian can withdraw a child from TK or kindergarten if they prefer. If you are asking whether a child can be enrolled in kindergarten after a week of TK, that would probably be a local decision.

  11. Jitendra Chopra 4 months ago4 months ago

    I am currently located in Arizona and my son attending 4th Grade. My sons's birthday is 09/19/2010. I am moving from Phoenix Az to San Jose. School district said he will be enrolled in 3rd grade. I want to enroll him for 4th grade though to save his one year. He is doing good at his current grade. He studied in USA from kindergarten to current grade. is there any way iI can convince … Read More

    I am currently located in Arizona and my son attending 4th Grade. My sons’s birthday is 09/19/2010. I am moving from Phoenix Az to San Jose. School district said he will be enrolled in 3rd grade. I want to enroll him for 4th grade though to save his one year. He is doing good at his current grade. He studied in USA from kindergarten to current grade. is there any way iI can convince school district to enroll him in 4th Grade?

    Replies

  12. Navpreet dhesi 4 months ago4 months ago

    If a child’s birthday is 9/1/2014, should they be a kindergarten or Tk if they enroll in 8/2019

    Replies

    • Zaidee Stavely 4 months ago4 months ago

      A child born on 9/1/14 is eligible for kindergarten in 8/2019. All children who turn 5 before September 2 are eligible for kindergarten that fall, even if school starts before their birthday.

    • Jill Menegon 4 months ago4 months ago

      Kindergarten, but with parent request some districts will allow the student to be in TK if there is room. Four year olds who turn 5 September 2-December 2 enroll in TK.

  13. vanessa Rodriguez 5 months ago5 months ago

    if my daughter birthday is Dec 4th, 2015 when can she start TK? She will be 4 this December 2019.

    Replies

    • Zaidee Stavely 4 months ago4 months ago

      Hi Vanessa. It depends where you live. School districts are only obligated to enroll a child in TK if they will turn 5 between Sep. 2 and Dec. 2, but some districts allow students who will turn 5 after Dec. 2 to enroll in “expanded TK.”

  14. Janelle 5 months ago5 months ago

    By limiting TK to Sept. 2-Dec. 1 birthdays and simultaneously moving up the enrollment from Dec. 1 to Sept. 1 (5 by Sept 1) they are effectively giving the oldest kids in kindergarten the TK experience and not allowing the youngest kids the experience. How does that make sense?! For example, my August baby will enter when she is 4, she'll turn 5 the second week of school, and her September 2 birthday classmate … Read More

    By limiting TK to Sept. 2-Dec. 1 birthdays and simultaneously moving up the enrollment from Dec. 1 to Sept. 1 (5 by Sept 1) they are effectively giving the oldest kids in kindergarten the TK experience and not allowing the youngest kids the experience. How does that make sense?! For example, my August baby will enter when she is 4, she’ll turn 5 the second week of school, and her September 2 birthday classmate will be turning 6, 4 weeks after school starts and will have had the TK experience.
    I guess my main point is that we need to advocate for enough funding so that all children entering K can experience TK.

    Replies

    • Rich 4 months ago4 months ago

      I agree with you. As a TK teacher, I have definitely seen how much my students benefit once they enter kindergarten.

  15. Carmen 6 months ago6 months ago

    Thanks for this article, it is a really eye-opened for my preschool children’s parents

  16. Mo 6 months ago6 months ago

    My daughter born on October 17, 2013. When she can start to school?

    Replies

    • Zaidee Stavely 6 months ago6 months ago

      Hello, Mo. Your daughter is 5, so she can enroll in kindergarten this fall.

  17. Brittany 7 months ago7 months ago

    My daughter has been chosen for transitional pre k. I was wondering if I do this if she’ll start 1st grade the next year or go to kindergarten?

    Replies

    • Aimee 6 months ago6 months ago

      No, she would go to Kindergarten the next year. You can’t go from TK to first.

      • John 3 months ago3 months ago

        That's not entirely true. Though uncommon, a student can "skip grade", from TK to K during the year, or complete TK and go to 1st, just as a kid could go from 3rd to 5th, if the student is way ahead both academically, socially, and emotionally. There is a process. Most will argue that TK is an advantage, but if the student is gifted or way beyond the average level for their age, this can … Read More

        That’s not entirely true. Though uncommon, a student can “skip grade”, from TK to K during the year, or complete TK and go to 1st, just as a kid could go from 3rd to 5th, if the student is way ahead both academically, socially, and emotionally. There is a process. Most will argue that TK is an advantage, but if the student is gifted or way beyond the average level for their age, this can be boring. The counterpoint to this is that the student would take on more mentorship responsibility.

        Given that school happens yearly, and the relative life experience of kids at this young age will vary so widely, it’s bound to be a misfit one way or another. It seems what grade your kids start in is pretty rigid, but the individuality can be assessed once they have gotten into the system. Just be active and everything will work out.

  18. Elizabeth 8 months ago8 months ago

    My twin boys will turn 5 on October 1st. They are about to finish pre-k. Can they go straight to kindergarten and skip T-k? The oldest twin is really smart and I would like for him to advance and I was wondering if he can go straight to kinder. Thank you

  19. Michele Hood 9 months ago9 months ago

    I just found out that my son who will turn 5 on February 19th, 2020 was denied entry into the TK program. My son has various sensory issues and would be a great candidate for TK. Our program can take up to 24 students and only 15 have signed up. I am currently gathering information to properly advocate for my son and any information you can offer would be greatly appreciated.

    Replies

    • Zaidee Stavely 6 months ago6 months ago

      Hi Michele, Catching up comments here. Currently, there is a bill in the Legislature, SB 217, that if passed, would allow all 4-year-olds with special needs who will turn 5 before the end of the school year to enroll in TK.

  20. Nancy Waltz 11 months ago11 months ago

    Your explanation is very clear. One question: if a school district opts to offer expanded transitional K to children who turn five after Dec. 2, will that district receive state funding for it ?

    Replies

    • Zaidee Stavely 6 months ago6 months ago

      Hi Nancy, Catching up on comments here. California does not give school districts average daily attendance funding for children who turn 5 after Dec 2 until they turn 5.

  21. Pankaj 12 months ago12 months ago

    My son will turn 4 in Feb 2019. Will he be eligible for Kindergarten 2019/20 enrollment in CA public school?

  22. Charlotte Bowden 1 year ago1 year ago

    I think all students should be allowed to attend TK. I am a teacher and students who don’t attend TK are at a huge disadvantage. Students who attend TK come to Kindergarten with a year of schooling and they are older than the other students. It is really hard for the non TK students when they start school. They are very intimidated because they are younger and they haven’t had any schooling and the … Read More

    I think all students should be allowed to attend TK. I am a teacher and students who don’t attend TK are at a huge disadvantage. Students who attend TK come to Kindergarten with a year of schooling and they are older than the other students. It is really hard for the non TK students when they start school. They are very intimidated because they are younger and they haven’t had any schooling and the TK students come in knowing more than they do. I think all students should be allowed to attend TK!

  23. Danell 1 year ago1 year ago

    TK should be offered to all students the year before kindergarten or not offered at all. I pay tax dollars as everyone else, and my child will not be receiving a full paid year of TK because her birthday is in July; however, there are multiple children that will be in class with her that had a whole year of pre-kinder prep. This is such a faulty program and it only benefits the kids and … Read More

    TK should be offered to all students the year before kindergarten or not offered at all. I pay tax dollars as everyone else, and my child will not be receiving a full paid year of TK because her birthday is in July; however, there are multiple children that will be in class with her that had a whole year of pre-kinder prep.

    This is such a faulty program and it only benefits the kids and families with certain birthdays. It makes absolutely no sense.

    Replies

    • Sue 1 year ago1 year ago

      Danell, I have a July birthday and always felt younger than the other kids and struggled to keep up. If your child doesn't seem ready for Kinder when she is 5 then I would put her in TK at age 5 , then she would be 6 in Kinder. That way she benefits from TK. Also, some friends of mind waited a year for their child to start Kinder because they were … Read More

      Danell, I have a July birthday and always felt younger than the other kids and struggled to keep up. If your child doesn’t seem ready for Kinder when she is 5 then I would put her in TK at age 5 , then she would be 6 in Kinder. That way she benefits from TK. Also, some friends of mind waited a year for their child to start Kinder because they were not ready. Waiting is so beneficial for some children. But, if the child is reading and knows letters and numbers already they are ready for K.

  24. Daniel 2 years ago2 years ago

    Question: Can a child be enrolled even if they did not make the sept. 1 deadline? If so, is there a stipulation that the child must attend kindergarten for two consecutive years or show an accelerated intellect to be allowed to progress to 1st grade?

  25. Manuela Pino 2 years ago2 years ago

    I have a question. I have granddaughter who has a Sept. 29 birthday. She is almost four but began reading when she was three. What can a transitional kindergarten class possibly offer her if she is beyond the reading readiness stage. I believe my daughter has opted not to place her in TK since she has been doing so well in the area of reading.

    Replies

    • Andrew L. 2 years ago2 years ago

      Manuela, good question. While I don’t represent EdSource, I work in early education. Transitional kindergarten is so much more than learning to read. Kids who are getting quality early education learn better social-emotional skills, problem solving skills, math skills, and other essential skills that prepare them for K-12 success. Social interaction is one of the most important parts of early development and TK programs help in this regard.

  26. Jonathan Raymond 2 years ago2 years ago

    Transitional Kindergarten offers the gift of a year to our youngest students. It’s one of the best things California has done in public education. School districts would be wise to embrace it for their families and use the opportunity creatively and expansively.

    Replies

    • Amy 2 years ago2 years ago

      Actually, it offers the gift of a year to the oldest students. Those who qualify for TK are the oldest in Kindergarten when they start. It makes no sense. Students with June, July and August birthdays are the youngest kindergartners. Why aren’t they offered the gift of TK the year prior?

      • Michele 2 years ago2 years ago

        Amy, I totally agree with you. It makes no sense! The older kids that go to TK are often way ahead of the rest of the class. I guess the only thing is that it makes the teachers job easier since they know the letters, numbers, etc and are reading or starting to ready. This was my observation from volunteering for two years in a kinder class.

  27. Eric Premack 2 years ago2 years ago

    With all due respect to the California Department of Education, the letter and intent of the transitional kindergarten (TK) law is that offering TK is an option, not a requirement. More specifically, Education Code section 48000 provides that “as a condition of receipt of apportionment for pupils in a transitional kindergarten program . . . a school district or charter school shall ensure . . . a child who will have his or … Read More

    With all due respect to the California Department of Education, the letter and intent of the transitional kindergarten (TK) law is that offering TK is an option, not a requirement.

    More specifically, Education Code section 48000 provides that “as a condition of receipt of apportionment for pupils in a transitional kindergarten program . . . a school district or charter school shall ensure . . . a child who will have his or her fifth birthday between September 2 and December 2 shall be admitted to a transitional kindergarten program maintained by the school district or charter school.”

    The first few words “as a condition of receipt of apportionment” are key and mean that the “requirement” applies only if the district or charter school receives TK funding. If a district or charter school opts not to receive TK funding, it need not admit TK students.

    This point was extensively discussed as the TK laws were enacted and the Legislature was careful to avoid mandating that schools offer TK. If the state had mandated TK, the state would be on the hook to pay for its full cost, including facilities, because the California Constitution requires the state to reimburse the costs of new/higher levels of service.

    In practice, schools and districts that have the facilities to house TK are smart to offer it since it presumably gives eligible students a boost, but not all do have facilities and/or may face other serious logistical challenges.

    Replies

    • Katherine 2 years ago2 years ago

      Thank you for this clarification. I recently found out that my son’s school district does not offer TK. He turns 5 on September 7. I don’t know what I can do to get the district to offer TK.