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Transitional Kindergarten is Optional for Calif. Charters, Group Says

The tussle over transitional kindergarten in California has a new wrinkle, just as the school year opens under a law that requires public schools to offer an extra year of schooling for 4-year-olds who no longer meet the state's new date by which they must turn 5 in order to enroll in kindergarten.

This time, the state's largest association for charter schools is advising its members that offering the extra grade level for 4-year-olds is an option, not a requirement, under the state law that established transitional kindergarten. But the state department of education says the law requires all public schools with kindergarten programs—charters included—to provide transitional kindergarten, and some individual charter organizations have moved ahead with offering the new program.

The 2010 Kindergarten Readiness Act, which was signed by former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, mandates that transitional kindergarten be offered to provide an extra year of instruction to kids affected by the rollback of the date by which children must be 5 to enter kindergarten to Sept. 1, from Dec. 1.

The law had been on the ropes for months because of the state's ongoing budget crisis, with Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, proposing earlier this year to eliminate the kindergarten readiness program and use the money instead to restore funding that had been cut from the state's preschool program which serves low-income children. The program ended up surviving final budget negotiations between the governor and the Legislature and more than 800 districts have forged ahead with rolling out the new program this school year.

But now comes the analysis from the California Charter Schools Association that individual charters are not obligated under the law to offer the program because the law puts that responsibility on school districts, not individual schools. The Associated Press has a story that outlines the dispute from all sides.

California is home to more charter schools than any other state. In Los Angeles alone, some 200 charters serve more than 100,000 students, so even if just some of them holds out on transitional kindergarten, it could have a significant effect. It appears this dispute is just the latest in the still-evolving relationship between publicly funded, but independently run, charters and the state and local entities that still retain some control over them.

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