Bill to cut pre-school funding rejected despite big savings

Legislation was rejected Wednesday that would suspend a newly authorized statewide program to provide transitional kindergarten to preschoolers.

SB 634 by state Sen. Sharon Runner, R-Antelope Valley, would also prohibit a school district from initiating a transitional kindergarten program if their financial status has been designated by the state to be qualified or negative.

In a hearing before the Senate Education Committee, Runner pointed out existing law requires that savings derived from last year's agreement to roll back the start date for children entering kindergarten must be spent on transitional kindergarten programs - something she doesn't believe the state can afford.

She noted that if the state only implemented the age change and didn't also establish the transitional kindergarten - the savings could be as much as $700 million annually.

While school district budgets are declining and existing core programs are being minimized or even eliminated, it could be considered irresponsible to fund a new and expensive statewide program," Runner said.

But her proposal has drawn widespread opposition, including the California Teachers Association, California Association of School Psychologists and the California Association of Suburban School Districts.

Jennifer Baker from CTA pointed out that efforts to create the transitional kindergarten program have been going on for years - largely based on research data that shows the instructional benefit to serving young children before kindergarten.

"One of the reasons we have an achievement gap is because many of the students who enter into kindergarten are not age ready," she said.

Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who authored legislation last summer that rolled back the kindergarten age, noted that it was Sen. Runner who originally proposed adjusting the school entry age both to save money and ensure that children entering kindergarten were ready for school.

He also noted, however, that the agreement struck last year was to reinvest the savings into the same children. "Without that reinvestment of funds, without that commitment of service to students who would otherwise have been in our schools - I will be a no vote," he said.

While the proposal was rejected by the Democratic majority, committee chair Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, did say that the bill could be brought back - especially if new taxes are not approved.

In other action before legislative committees:

- SB 740 by Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley was approved. SB 740 eliminates second grade assessment as part of the Standardized Testing and Reporting Program, beginning July 2012. Hancock argued that numerous early childhood organizations have said that standardized testing of second graders is developmentally inappropriate. Her bill drew strong opposition from EdVoice, a powerful Sacramento-based charter advocacy agency.

- AB 165 by Assemblyman Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, was approved. The bill would essentially codify the settlement agreement reached late last year between the ACLU of Southern California and the state of California over the discovery of many districts improperly charging student fees for books, art supplies and other basic educational materials as well as for participation in after school programs.

- SB 885 by Sen. Simitian was approved. This bill would authorize key state agencies to form a joint powers authority for work on implementing a comprehensive longitudinal P-20 statewide data system for California. Among the agencies included are: the California Department of Education; the University of California; California State University; the Commission on Teacher Credentialing; the California Postsecondary Education Commission; and the California State Board of Education.

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