By Barbara Wood, Special to the Almanac
A bill that would require public school districts in California to offer an additional year of school for 4-year-olds was introduced in the state Legislature on Tuesday, Jan. 7.
State Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said at a press conference that one of his reasons for co-sponsoring the bill is that the Las Lomitas and Menlo Park City school districts don't have the transitional kindergarten programs that almost every other district in the state offers. Las Lomitas has never had a transitional kindergarten program and Menlo Park has announced it will end its program after this school year.
"Two school districts in my (senate) district Las Lomitas and Menlo Park City School have interpreted the (existing) law to be voluntary and are not offering a transitional kindergarten program, causing children in San Mateo County to miss out on a critical developmental window," he said. "The fact that two school districts are not offering the program creates haves and have-nots children who can benefit from the program and those who are left out."
"This isn't right," Senator Hill said.
Darrell Steinberg, the state Senate president pro tem, is the main sponsor of the bill and California Democrats have listed the universal transitional kindergarten program as one of their priorities in the upcoming budget negotiations. However, Governor Jerry Brown's budget proposal released on Jan. 9 does not include any funding for transitional kindergarten.
The bill, which proponents are calling TK For All, proposes transitional kindergarten be phased in over five years, beginning with the 2015-16 school year, at an estimated cost of $990 million a year once fully phased in. The proponents claim that savings from reducing the need for special education services, having fewer students repeating grades, and having fewer Californians ending up in prison will exceed the cost of the new program.
"I'm proud to call this wise spending in California," Sen. Steinberg said. "There are few better uses of the taxpayer dollars than investing in evidence-based change providing young people, 4-year-olds, the head start they need."
Tom Torklekson, the state superintendent of public instruction, also spoke in favor of the bill at the press conference. "It's a simple choice invest in kids now and reap the rewards of a better-educated and more productive workforce and a healthier state or pay the price later with more high school dropouts and more young people dropping into trouble, gangs, drugs and jail," he said.
The proposed law has provisions that differ from the current transitional kindergarten law, approved in 2010, which now only applies to the 25 percent of children affected when the birth date for kindergarten admission was pushed back from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1. It specifically makes providing the additional year of school mandatory for all districts, allows for districts to get facilities funding for transitional kindergarten classrooms, and says that if the program is seen as a state mandate, funding will be provided to all districts.
Click here to see the text of Senate Bill 837.