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Black families less likely to enroll in California’s transitional kindergarten, research shows

Black families may be less likely to enroll in California’s universal transitional kindergarten program than other groups, according to a new study from UC Berkeley.

Some 64,000 new children are projected to enter California’s universal transitional kindergarten, or TK, this month, as the program gradually expands to accept all of the state’s 4-year-olds. But participation in this ambitious new program remains more limited for black families in many parts of the state, researchers found.

The number of black children in TK already fell prior to the pandemic, data shows. Enrollment declined another 35% during the Covid era, as reported by the Public Policy Institute of California.

“We don’t yet know why African American parents shy away from transitional kindergarten,” said Carla Bryant, a study co-author. “It’s possible that Black parents may remain loyal to their neighborhood preschool rather than being drawn to pre-K situated in public schools.”

By contrast, Latino parents, have enrolled their preschoolers in TK at high rates. About 51,000 Latin0 children were enrolled in TK statewide in 2020. Only 7,400 Black children enrolled that year. Black enrollment fell behind other ethnic groups in key California regions, including Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Sacramento counties.

The UC Berkeley study found that white parents also under-enroll their children in transitional kindergarten, further limiting the diversity of the program.

“Policymakers hope to narrow the wide gaps in children’s early learning,” said Bruce Fuller, a professor at the Berkeley School of Education, sociologist and co-author of the study. “We simply won’t reach this goal unless all children gain equal access to quality pre-K.”