Kindergarten for all 4-years oldsBrown's plan to scrap transitional kindergarten
If not for its rarity, the pushmi-pullyu of Dr. Dolittle stories might best represent the tangled political narrative surrounding California’s Transitional Kindergarten program. Instead of being half gazelle and half unicorn, the two heads of TK are Gov. Brown on one end and the Legislature, parents, and advocacy groups on the opposite end. Try as they might, they just can’t move in the same direction.
This morning, the Assembly budget subcommittee on education will hold a hearing on the latest proposal by Gov. Brown to eliminate TK but keep the new age requirements in place. What’s unusual about this plan is that instead of saving the state $224 million, it could end up costing more than a billion dollars.
Transitional Kindergarten was established by Senate Bill 1381, known as the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010. It raised the age when children can start kindergarten by one month a year over the next three years and created TK for the children with late-fall birthdays who were no longer old enough to enroll in regular kindergarten.
The program would be a financial wash for the first 12 years because the children in TK would have been in school anyway, in traditional kindergarten. In his initial budget plan, Gov. Brown called for eliminating TK and using the money saved to help close the state’s budget deficit.
After several incarnations, the governor has introduced trailer bill language that ends TK but allows school districts to admit any child who will turn five at any point during the school year and get ADA funding for that child starting from the first day of school. Taken to its extreme, that means that if the last day of class is June 30, the district could admit a child who will turn five on June 29 and get state funding for that student.
“If all school districts decided to enroll all those kids, that would be an additional cost pressure of $1.4 billion,” estimated Scott Moore, Senior Policy Advisor at Preschool California.
Enrollment wouldn’t be automatic, however; parents would have to apply for early admission and the district would determine on a case-by-case basis if it’s in the best interest of the child. And it’s up to each district whether or not to even offer early admission.
Jeff Bell, with School Services of California, said he spends hours a week talking to districts about TK and each one has its own unique circumstances to consider. “This is the type of program that has many planning decisions surrounding it for a school district,” said Bell. “Do I need to offer it? Do I have a critical mass of students? Do I have the staffing for it?”
Depending on their answers, there are some districts that would choose not to offer a program and some that, as Bell said, would move “full steam ahead.” That means that children in one district could have a robust TK program, while kids the same age in a neighboring district would have to wait another year to start school.
“It’s unfortunate because it adds to the confusion, it adds to this very uncertain confusing proposal that’s constantly changing,” said Scott Moore, Senior Policy Advisor at Preschool California. “And it does this in the middle of kindergarten enrollment.”
The timing was too close to the wire for San Francisco Unified School District. In late January, when registration was beginning for next fall, the district announced that it wouldn’t be offering TK because at that time there was no assurance that the state was going to pay for those students.
Last week, in a partial turnaround, San Francisco Unified said it would provide TK, but only at two schools, and parents would have to provide transportation. For low-income families living in the Tenderloin and other outlying areas, the distance could very likely rule out TK. But even other parents find it a possible insurmountable challenge. For Marija Maldonado, whose middle child misses the new age cutoff by one day, it would be a 15 to 20 minute drive. “No parent is going to drive a four-year-old 20 minutes, especially if you have another kid in school 3 or 4 blocks from your house, in rush hour traffic.”
Maldonado and other parents met with district officials and left feeling that the district wasn’t willing to make any accommodations such as placing children in regular kindergarten programs closer to their homes through the early enrollment process..
“We are so disappointed with their unwillingness to help these kids achieve an education.” she said. “Aren’t all children deserving of an education regardless of race, gender and zip code?”
There is already talk of lawsuits for unequal access to education. Learning Rights Law Center, which represents young children with disabilities, sent Gov. Brown a letter last week warning that the trailer bill violates the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act.
The attorneys wrote that by leaving it up to individual districts to decide whether to accept four year olds, “This proposal creates vastly different educational systems for young children with disabilities. This is not only tragic, but a violation of federal protections for children with disabilities.”