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Transitional Kindergarten Gains Support in California

Some California lawmakers are sending a strong message to the state's school districts to move ahead with transitional kindergarten in the next school year, even though Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed eliminating the program's funding.

On Tuesday, the state Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance voted to reject the governor's budget proposal to eliminate transitional kindergarten.

"This is a program that benefits young children and it's going to help them succeed all the way through. I believe the cost savings will be significant in the future because of the readiness and because of what it is going to be offering to these young children,"
Assembly member Susan Bonilla, chairwoman of the budget subcommittee, said in a release provided by Preschool California, a nonprofit advocacy organization supporting transitional kindergarten.

More than 120 school districts have been moving ahead with implementing transitional kindergarten, which is required by state law, even as they remain in limbo about whether they'd get state money to help pay for it. Others have put plans on hold as they wait to see what will happen with the state funding.

In January, Brown proposed to save about $223 million by eliminating funding for the program, causing an uproar of protest from school officials, educators and parents. Last month, California Watch reported that Brown introduced additional budget language that "would allow school districts to decide for themselves whether to offer the program, with full state funding. Parents and schools would use a special waiver to enroll students into kindergarten before their 5th birthday."

"That means, depending on the legislature's actions, schools would either be required to offer transitional kindergarten this fall, or have a choice. Either way, they would receive funding for the program," the web site reported.

That news has only added to the confusion faced by districts, which are mandated by the state's 2010 Kindergarten Readiness Act to provide transitional kindergarten in fall 2012. The law also rolls back the cutoff date by which children must be 5 to enter kindergarten to Sept. 1, from Dec. 1. Transitional kindergarten, the first year of a two-year kindergarten program, would provide an additional year of instruction to help those children who would turn 5 during that three-month period get ready for regular kindergarten.

Last week, the San Francisco Unified School District announced it would offer transitional kindergarten at two sites instead of districtwide because of the continuing uncertainty over whether the California legislature would mandate and fund the program.

Advocates for transitional kindergarten claim that eliminating the program would leave as many as 125,000 of the state's youngest kindergarten-aged kids with no place to go, as parents scramble to find preschool or day care for next year.

The legislature is required to approve a budget by July.

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