Photo: Andrew Reed/EdSource
Kindergarten students in Robin Bryant's class are learning how to add and subtract.

Do you count on EdSource’s education coverage? If so, please make your donation today to keep us going without a paywall or ads.

Two newly introduced bills could significantly impact the early education landscape in California if they eventually become law. 

State Sen. Susan Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, is championing a bill to make kindergarten mandatory while Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, has introduced legislation that would require school districts to offer full-day kindergarten. While both proposals have been put forth before, if these two pieces of legislation pass, they would fundamentally redefine and expand key aspects of the kindergarten experience.

These proposals may be a sign of the times, some say, reflecting heightened attention to the importance of early childhood education. After years of being overshadowed by other concerns, early childhood issues might finally be getting the attention they deserve. 

From President Joe Biden’s vision of universal preschool to California’s pending expansion of transitional kindergarten, experts say, there is an emerging consensus, buttressed by extensive research, that high-quality early education can help develop the skills children need to become lifelong learners. 

I’m optimistic that our society as a whole is beginning to see the importance of early childhood education,” said Gennie Gorback, president of the California Kindergarten Association. “We know that early childhood education increases successful outcomes for kids later in life.”

Making kindergarten mandatory will help close the state’s achievement gap, advocates say, because some children who skip kindergarten have a hard time catching up with their peers. Children from low-income families enter school with fewer academic skills than their more advantaged classmates, an issue heightened by the pandemic.

Mandating kindergarten is beneficial to children in our state,” said Patricia Lozano, executive director of Early Edge, an early education advocacy organization. “Through this mandate, California is saying that kindergarten matters. It sets an expectation for parents and students alike and prepares students for school success.”

The vast gulf in skills that students bring with them when entering school is one of the key factors that struck Rubio in her 17 years as a public school teacher and principal. Some children come to school already knowing how to read while others have scarcely been read to. That gap widens over time, Rubio realized.

“I have witnessed the detrimental impact on young students who miss out on fundamental early education,” said Rubio, who introduced the bill. “The voluntary participation in kindergarten leaves students unprepared for the educational environment they will encounter in elementary school. The pandemic has exacerbated this reality.”

Kindergarten is not compulsory in California and most other states, according to the Education Commission of the States, a research group that tracks education policy. Children are required to be enrolled in school at age 6, however only an estimated 5% to 7% of students do not enroll in kindergarten, according to the California Kindergarten Association, in an average year. 

The pandemic, of course, is a different matter entirely, and many parents have kept children of all ages out of school because of fear of Covid transmission. Even now, surges in the virus sometimes lead parents to choose safety over schooling. 

Senate Bill 70, which would require all students to complete a year in kindergarten before entering first grade to ensure children are prepared for elementary school, now heads to the state Assembly after passing in the Senate in a bipartisan vote

It should be noted that a similar mandatory kindergarten bill passed the Legislature in 2014, but it was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who invoked the importance of parental choice.

 “I would prefer to let parents determine what is best for their children,” he said.

However, making kindergarten mandatory may be a way of signaling its significance, some say. 

“If a grade isn’t mandatory, it’s seen as discretionary, and absences are higher,” said Beth Graue, director of the Center for Research on Early Childhood Education at the University of Wisconsin. “It is hard to build a coherent curriculum if the experiences include children missing a grade level.” 

One central issue may be that kindergarten itself has changed over the years. While many parents may fondly remember the playful days of finger painting and naptime, research suggests children spend a smaller percentage of their day on activities like art, music and theater now than they once did. Kindergarten is now vital to prepare children for first grade, teachers say, which is more academically rigorous than it once was.

Another potential change in the state’s kindergarten policy would be mandating that districts offer a full-day program. Proponents of the bill say more instruction time helps prepare students for first grade. Currently, some districts offer only part-day kindergarten.

“Full-day kindergarten gives students the time they need to engage in meaningful learning and play,” McCarty said. “This can result in greater school readiness, self-confidence and student achievement compared to part-day programs.”

Under Assembly Bill 1973, school districts would be required to offer full-day kindergarten programs to all students, starting in the 2025-26 school year. Schools would be able to offer part-day kindergarten in addition to the full-day program.

“We see study after study reporting better outcomes for children who attend a full-day program versus their peers who attend part-day,” said Gorback. “We know that full-day programs are beneficial for our English language learners and our children who come from lower socio-economic backgrounds. We also know that full-day programs have more time to incorporate play into their schedule, which we see as incredibly important.” 

The concept of full-day kindergarten has also been broached before, notably in 2019 when Assemblymember Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, introduced Assembly Bill 197

However, part-time kindergarten is preferred by some families, particularly those who believe a shorter school day is more developmentally appropriate for young children. That’s one reason districts serving middle-class and affluent communities tend to offer part-day kindergarten, research shows, while poorer districts often offer full-day programs.

Nearly three-fourths of the state’s elementary schools already offer full-day kindergarten, according to the Berkeley Early Childhood Think Tank.  Since child care is often prohibitively expensive, only well-heeled families can afford to hire nannies, for instance, or arrange for a stay-at-home parent. That’s why some experts say that expanding full-day kindergarten programs is unlikely to greatly impact low-income families. 

“The governor and state lawmakers keep trumpeting the vital importance of narrowing disparities in early learning. But expanding full-day K would likely work against this virtuous aim,” said Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy at UC Berkeley. “Expanding full-day K would hold regressive effects, mostly benefiting economically better-off communities.”

 

Do you count on EdSource’s reporting daily? Make your donation today to our year end fundraising campaign by Dec. 31st to keep us going without a paywall or ads.

Share Article

Comments (28)

Leave a Reply to Lisa L Disbrow

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * *

Comments Policy

We welcome your comments. All comments are moderated for civility, relevance and other considerations. Click here for EdSource's Comments Policy.

  1. Crystal 8 months ago8 months ago

    More like earlier indoctrination!

  2. Robyn Delgado 8 months ago8 months ago

    Low income households already have access to early education. If society as a whole sees the benefit of early education then why would it need to be mandated? This is about control. No more mandates from our government. Keep your options open.

  3. Wendy Wyckoff 8 months ago8 months ago

    I think it is extemely important to fully understand the developmental appropriateness of what is currently being expected of kindergarten students. There is so much more to their learning needs than “academic skills”!!

  4. Robert pearson 8 months ago8 months ago

    Oh no. Mandates? More mandates...for kindergartners now? Haven't we had enough of these pols' mandates? The "experts" agree? Really? What's wrong with just letting the parents decide. Read More

    Oh no. Mandates? More mandates…for kindergartners now? Haven’t we had enough of these pols’ mandates? The “experts” agree? Really? What’s wrong with just letting the parents decide.

  5. Lisa 8 months ago8 months ago

    As an Early Childhood Development teacher, Kindergarten is mandatory to attend elementary school. Evaluations determine if the child excels above or below Kindergarten standards. That is why preschool should be mandatory. Ages 3-5. But most importantly getting parents involved in their children’s education is just as important.

  6. Cat 8 months ago8 months ago

    Not all kids are ready for all day K. Leave it to families. Stop over-governing.

  7. Alicia Pérez 8 months ago8 months ago

    I am currently working as a reading intervention teacher in a low income community in East Los Angeles. I teach 1st-3rd graders who are well below where they should be due to the pandemic. The first graders who are struggling the most are the ones who did not attend Kindergarten during the pandemic because it wasn't mandatory. I think that it should be mandatory primarily because of the pandemic and future pandemics. … Read More

    I am currently working as a reading intervention teacher in a low income community in East Los Angeles. I teach 1st-3rd graders who are well below where they should be due to the pandemic. The first graders who are struggling the most are the ones who did not attend Kindergarten during the pandemic because it wasn’t mandatory. I think that it should be mandatory primarily because of the pandemic and future pandemics.

    The article is correct in saying that in low-income communities most children do attend full day Kindergarten already, due to a lack of affordable childcare and because both parents have to work because of the high cost of living. Due to this fact, the reality is that making Kindergarten mandatory and extending the school day is not going to improve Kindergarten outcomes. What needs to happen is more support in the classroom for teachers in the form of Teacher Assistants. It takes a village to bring up a child properly. The legal student to teacher ratio in California is 8 students per 1 adult, with a maximum class size of 24, in preschool, under the direct supervision of a certificated teacher. Perhaps, they should propose a bill to make this ratio apply to all TK-2nd grade classes. That will make a bigger impact.

    Replies

    • Kenta 8 months ago8 months ago

      Children from low-income communities have very different needs from children with more resources and more attention from mom and dad. Mandatory Kindergarten is not going to improve outcomes for children with high-income dads and educated stay-at-home moms, for example. But it would probably help children with low-wage immigrant single mothers who have non-English speaking grandparents watch their kids during the day. Apples and oranges. State should put effort into making sure the latter type are … Read More

      Children from low-income communities have very different needs from children with more resources and more attention from mom and dad. Mandatory Kindergarten is not going to improve outcomes for children with high-income dads and educated stay-at-home moms, for example. But it would probably help children with low-wage immigrant single mothers who have non-English speaking grandparents watch their kids during the day. Apples and oranges. State should put effort into making sure the latter type are enrolling in Kindergarten, since they need it more. The former type are doing fine, let them carry on.

  8. Heather Goodell 8 months ago8 months ago

    When I was a kid I thought kindergarten was mandatory. What I don’t agree with is having a cutoff date to enter kindergarten. For example if a kid was born December 31st 2016 they should he allowed to enter kindergarten with all the other kids that were born that year. A kid born at the end of the year is just as smart as a kid born at the beginning of the year.

  9. Dennis 8 months ago8 months ago

    Having been a K teacher, I can tell you that as you lengthen the K day, the quality of the day goes down.
    The kids tire under structured time.

    The teacher has less time to do more prep: Quality K instruction requires an immense load of teacher prep.
    I think the better alternative is to focus more resources into the after school child development centers putting emphasis on “development” as opposed to “daycare.”

  10. Jason 8 months ago8 months ago

    Suggest it? Sure. Mandate? Hell no. Our biggest concern is making sure these teachers aren’t indoctrinating the kids with false narratives and dangerous ideologies.

  11. Jodi Junkins 8 months ago8 months ago

    I didn’t go to kindergarten. My parents taught me. When I was given an assessment before entering 1st grade (age 5), the school told my parents my reading was at a 12th grade level and that they didn’t have a level high enough for me. Making me go to kindergarten for a year before allowing me into 1st grade would have delayed my education.

    Replies

    • Lisa 8 months ago8 months ago

      Hi Jodi,
      I wrote a comment about children being tested in Kindergarten for that purpose, so the objective would be for them to continue challenging their cognitive learning but keep them in with children their own age adapting to social skills. A lot of times kids who have very high learning abilities often mature too fast. It’s important for growth stages.

  12. jewel 8 months ago8 months ago

    I taught kindergarten for 20 years. I heartily agree with the idea that Kindergarten is essential.

  13. Michele 8 months ago8 months ago

    They are only doing that because California kindergarten enrollment is significantly down and the state is losing a ton of money from it. People don’t want to put their kindergartens into schools that are pushing Covid vaccines and early sex education agendas.

    Replies

    • MB 8 months ago8 months ago

      Both are excellent ideas that will make a difference. Research has shown that extended day kindergarten makes a difference. That would mean a minimum of 180 extra hours of instruction for the year. Many districts do this already; all should.

  14. SD Parent 8 months ago8 months ago

    There is another simple reason parents don't choose kindergarten: it doesn't provide the same amount of childcare (namely 6.5 hours per day for 180 days) compared to 6-6 coverage in a childcare/preschool setting. This is especially critical for low-income working families, which can qualify for free or reduced-cost full-time (6-6, year-round) childcare/preschool until the child becomes mandatory school age. In contrast, only a fraction of elementary schools offer year-round 6-6 (both before/after school … Read More

    There is another simple reason parents don’t choose kindergarten: it doesn’t provide the same amount of childcare (namely 6.5 hours per day for 180 days) compared to 6-6 coverage in a childcare/preschool setting.

    This is especially critical for low-income working families, which can qualify for free or reduced-cost full-time (6-6, year-round) childcare/preschool until the child becomes mandatory school age. In contrast, only a fraction of elementary schools offer year-round 6-6 (both before/after school care plus 6-6 care during the 22 weeks schools are not in session)–especially for free. So, often working parents are actually burdened by mandatory school hours (both financially and with respect to their ability to work full-time hours).

    It’s also worth pointing out that there is currently a shortage of elementary school-age educators, so between the expansion of TK and a call for mandatory K, it seems unlikely that there will be sufficient, credentialed educators to fill all the new mandated positions in the timeline set for implementation of both of these.

  15. Kent 8 months ago8 months ago

    The cited figure of 5%-7% of students not going to Kindergarten is a vast overestimate for two reasons. 1) parents can homeschool for K, or they can 2) send their children to a pre-school/daycare that offers an extra year that is essentially K. Neither of these have to be reported to the Dept of Ed because of the current rule that K is not mandatory. Only a private school/home school offering the mandatory grades (1-12) … Read More

    The cited figure of 5%-7% of students not going to Kindergarten is a vast overestimate for two reasons. 1) parents can homeschool for K, or they can 2) send their children to a pre-school/daycare that offers an extra year that is essentially K. Neither of these have to be reported to the Dept of Ed because of the current rule that K is not mandatory. Only a private school/home school offering the mandatory grades (1-12) is required to report. Reporting is done in the form of filing a Private School Affidavit (PSA) with the Dept of Ed.

    Making K mandatory will only increase the number of home schoolers and private pre-schools/daycares filing a Private School Affidavit indicating that they have students in K. I don’t know of anyone who didn’t send their kids to K — be it a public school program, structured homeschool program, or private K.

    There are some private daycares in my area that enroll classes of 5-year-olds and teach a standard Kindergarten curriculum. They are quite pricey and have long wait lists. But they are not listed in the Dept. of Ed.’s directory of private schools. And the state is probably counting these students in their 5%-7% figure, which makes me very skeptical that this new law is truly necessary.

    I do support the measure to force districts to offer full-day Kindergarten. What I’d really love is a measure that forces districts to offer both full-day and half-day.

  16. Lisa L Disbrow 8 months ago8 months ago

    Surprise, surprise!!! Superintendent Tony Thurmond and Secretary of State Shirley Weber support full day public schools for 5 year olds. Shocking!!! In 2015/2016 I experienced the nightmare of my kindergarten teaching career following then Assembly woman Shirley Weber's bill AB 329 that introduced the concepts of comprehensive sexual education which teach gender identity and sexual orientation throughout the curriculum tk-12th grade. Be aware that because these concepts are allowed throughout the grade levels … Read More

    Surprise, surprise!!! Superintendent Tony Thurmond and Secretary of State Shirley Weber support full day public schools for 5 year olds. Shocking!!!

    In 2015/2016 I experienced the nightmare of my kindergarten teaching career following then Assembly woman Shirley Weber’s bill AB 329 that introduced the concepts of comprehensive sexual education which teach gender identity and sexual orientation throughout the curriculum tk-12th grade. Be aware that because these concepts are allowed throughout the grade levels and academic content areas parents can not opt out of sexual orientation, gender identification instruction. As a nation parents disagree with the overstepping of family rights on these areas. From Louden County to San Diego parents are objecting.

    In 1999 CA Education bills legalized the freedom of teachers to share, discuss, include information about homosexuality, bi-sexuality, and transsexuality with the support of both teachers unions, the state associations of school boards, superintendents, PTA, psychologists, nurses, Planned Parenthood, GLSEN, and former and current State Superintendent Tony Thurmond.

    Is it little wonder that the powerful CA supermajority is looking for a strategy to attract new students, mandate a full day program which will boost financially hurting school district coffers, allow teachers to continue their SOGI instruction with the most compliant age group while our CA economy burdens families with more expensive groceries, gas, housing and paying for private pre-schooling has become a greater luxury for many? No.

    After serving in multiple districts in CA and witnessing the intentional rejection of a focus on academic progress for all students it’s apparent that the rejection will continue, students will continue to serve the education establishment in their path towards cultural transformation and political power at greater and greater expense to the taxpayers unless the parents of CA push back via school board recalls like SF, school board bans of CRT as in Placentia Yorba Linda, the creation of school pods, increased homeschooling, increased private associations and increased videos of teachers engaged in the intentional humanistic grooming of CA students.

    Parents should ask Supt. Tony Thurmond why in the West Contra Costa Unified School District and districts across CA our school boards have spent seconds dedicated to academic growth for our special needs, dyslexic, far below grade level, and our high performers who languish differently in our classrooms. Diversity is not our strength. Truth and the courage to acknowledge the truth set us free to be strong as individuals. New parents should ask State Secretary Weber and Superintendent Thurmond when will public schools stop the indoctrination of the Humanist Manifesto crafted by totalitarians Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

  17. kristy 8 months ago8 months ago

    This statement, “ many parents have kept children of all ages out of school because of fear of Covid transmission,” is not true. Parents are keeping their little ones home because they’re refusing the send their kids to school in masks. I know a few handfuls of parents that did just that. Kids in masks for 6 hours a day is abuse. And for kindergarten age, where they’re learning to read, spell, sound words out … Read More

    This statement, “ many parents have kept children of all ages out of school because of fear of Covid transmission,” is not true. Parents are keeping their little ones home because they’re refusing the send their kids to school in masks.

    I know a few handfuls of parents that did just that. Kids in masks for 6 hours a day is abuse. And for kindergarten age, where they’re learning to read, spell, sound words out … it’s impossible with masks. I would have kept my kindergartner home as well. Good for those parents that did!!

    Replies

    • eileen 8 months ago8 months ago

      So right! As a kindergarten educator, I can tell you that making these kids is absolute abuse and how parents and educators aren’t seeing it is absurd.

  18. Mercedes Van Wyk 8 months ago8 months ago

    There have actually been more long term studies saying preschool and kindergarten and early school is actually detrimental for the children by 6th grade. This doesn’t fix the gap, this makes it worse. Kids need parents and grandparents, not the state school to raise them. Look up the TN early education study.

  19. Timothy E. Morgan 8 months ago8 months ago

    Jerry Brown -- brilliant, earnest, sometimes blindly conservative. "Let parents decide what is best for their own children." Just because you didn't' have any, doesn't mean you should default to the educational equivalent to anti-vaxxism. Read More

    Jerry Brown — brilliant, earnest, sometimes blindly conservative. “Let parents decide what is best for their own children.” Just because you didn’t’ have any, doesn’t mean you should default to the educational equivalent to anti-vaxxism.

  20. Regina 8 months ago8 months ago

    I think kindergarten should be mandatory. Especially if kids are “behind” the second they reach first grade. It’s not fair.

    I do not think kindergarten should be full day. Who does that benefit. I do think kindergarten class sizes should be capped at 20.

  21. Jennifer Bestor 8 months ago8 months ago

    It is one thing to say that a school district must offer a full-day alternative. It is another to say that every child must attend it. It is interesting that you point out that districts serving middle-class and affluent (i.e., educated) communities are more likely to offer half-day programs -- because parents feel that they are more developmentally appropriate. Forcing those children into full-day programs suggests that California's progressive ed community considers … Read More

    It is one thing to say that a school district must offer a full-day alternative. It is another to say that every child must attend it.

    It is interesting that you point out that districts serving middle-class and affluent (i.e., educated) communities are more likely to offer half-day programs — because parents feel that they are more developmentally appropriate.

    Forcing those children into full-day programs suggests that California’s progressive ed community considers leveling down a worthy goal.

    Rather than forcing districts to expend money to keep children in a school building whose parents feel they would do better elsewhere for half the day, robust on-site after-school activities for disadvantaged children would be a better investment.

    Replies

    • Jessica G 8 months ago8 months ago

      I wholeheartedly agree with this. My son has special needs and, when he's old enough to attend school, will be the youngest in his class thanks to 1) his birth date and 2) the fact that our school district adamantly refuses to allow him to delay kindergarten one year. So if that bill passes and forces him to start kindergarten (when he's 4!), it will take away so much of our availability for him to … Read More

      I wholeheartedly agree with this. My son has special needs and, when he’s old enough to attend school, will be the youngest in his class thanks to 1) his birth date and 2) the fact that our school district adamantly refuses to allow him to delay kindergarten one year.

      So if that bill passes and forces him to start kindergarten (when he’s 4!), it will take away so much of our availability for him to meet with the multiple therapists he needs. I understand they have special education that can assist him at school, but I would rather him have the option and ability to stick with his current support team one year longer than be forced into a school setting before he’s ready. Only 5% of students aren’t enrolling? That doesn’t seem high enough to warrant such a drastic mandate. Their parents likely have a good reason for not doing so.

  22. Michael Alan 8 months ago8 months ago

    The case for “early childhood education” is riddled with holes and often times has unintended consequences leading to long-term academic problems. Kindergarten should not be mandatory.

  23. Jim 8 months ago8 months ago

    And the California legislature’s war on parents continues.