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Battle Continues Over Transitional Kindergarten in California

The battle over transitional kindergarten continues in California as Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers head into the final weeks of state budget negotiations amid a continuing fiscal crisis.

This week, Brown, a Democrat, reaffirmed his January proposal to eliminate the state-mandated program that is scheduled to be implemented this fall. On Monday, Brown released a revised budget proposal that increases funding for K-12 education by 16 percent to $34 billion by the end of 2013, but eliminates the kindergarten readiness program.

The 2010 Kindergarten Readiness Act mandated that transitional kindergarten be implemented to provide an extra year of instruction to kids who no longer meet the cut-off date for enrolling in kindergarten. The program would serve those kids affected by the law's rollback of the date by which children must be 5 to enter kindergarten to Sept. 1, from Dec. 1.

Brown's revised budget plan redirects about $91.5 million in savings from the program's elimination to restore proposed reductions in state preschool programs and to expand access to part-day programs for 15,500 low-income kids.

But proponents point out that transitional kindergarten is mandated by law, so it can't be eliminated unless lawmakers change the law. And key lawmakers in both houses of the California state legislature have already rejected Brown's proposal to cut the program.

"It's important for parents and school districts to remember that the governor's proposal is just a proposal. Transitional kindergarten is the law. Any changes to that law must be approved by the Legislature," state Senator Joe Simitian, a Democrat representing Palo Alto and the author of the 2010 law, said in a press release this week.

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.

Meanwhile, more than 200 districts statewide are moving ahead with plans to implement transitional kindergarten, according to Preschool California, a nonprofit advocacy group. The Los Angeles Unified School District has announced it will expand its existing transitional kindergarten program to serve all 400 of its elementary schools.

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