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California School Districts Embrace Transitional Kindergarten

As the summer winds down and schools get ready to open their doors, here are a couple of interesting perspectives in the ongoing debate over the value of preschool education:

In California, more than 800 districts are preparing to offer a second year of kindergarten to prepare the youngest kids for regular kindergarten. Transitional kindergarten is designed for those children who turn 5 years old after the new cutoff date for entering kindergarten.

About 125,000 kids will be eligible for the program annually once it's fully phased in over the next three years, according to the office of state Sen. Joseph Simitian, the author of the 2010 state law that changed the enrollment age and created transitional kindergarten.

Although mandated by law, the program was in jeopardy earlier this year when Gov. Jerry Brown cut it from his proposed budget for the next fiscal year. Strong support from the state's education leaders and the legislature helped turn the tide and save the program.

"Today's kindergarten classroom is a much different place than many of us experienced when we were growing up," Simitian said in a press release. "We're placing rigorous academic demands on these kids, and the youngest are struggling to catch up. Evidence shows that giving these 'young 5s' the gift of time can make a big different in their long-term success. The fact that we're able to do this at no immediate cost to the state is a real bonus in these challenging economic times."

While transitional kindergarten is expected to be developmentally appropriate for the younger learners, the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District is taking that idea one step further by focusing its transitional kindergarten program on science, technology, engineering, art and math specifically—giving kids an early introduction to STEM concepts.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, the debate continues over the value of state-funded preschool. All 95 counties offer a pre-k program, but there aren't enough slots for all 4-year-olds, according to a story in The Tennessean. And politicians and advocates continue to argue over whether more money should be spent on increasing access to preschool programs.

"If we're really trying to help the most disadvantaged children, does it really take a whole year to get them ready for kindergarten?" Republican state Rep. Bill Dunn, of Knoxville, told the newspaper. "I don't doubt that there is learning going on, but the question is, 'How long does it last and have we made the best use of those dollars?'"

And in Washington state, a county prosecuting attorney makes the case for investing in quality preschool programs by placing a dollar value on the returns.

"A year of quality preschool in Washington's Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program is less than $7,000 per student. A year in the state penitentiary costs taxpayers about $25,000 per inmate. Three kids can attend a quality early-learning program for the cost of confining one inmate in prison," Thurston County prosecuting attorney Jon Tunheim wrote in The Olympian.

Something to think about as summer fades into a new school year.

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