CSBA calls on LEAs to begin planning for transitional kindergarten’

Although new mandates surrounding kindergarten won't kick in for another year, some local educational agencies are already starting to plan for the new entry date and transitional services.

Legislation adopted last fall requires children to be at least five years old by November 1 for the 2012-13 school year -one month earlier from the existing December cutoff.

In addition, districts are also required to establish a new transitional" program for those 4-year-olds that otherwise would have qualified for starting school.

Even though the mandates don't kick in for another year, there's a lot to consider and plan for said Debra Brown, a senior legislative advocate for the California School Boards Association.

"There's the question about how many students a district might need to plan for - because it will be phased in, so what will that look like over four years?" said Brown, who recently authored a policy brief on the transitional kindergarten issue.

"There will be a need to get teachers on board who will want to teach the transitional kindergarten," she explained. "And the other big issue is outreach to parents."

California had been one of the few states nationally that allowed early entry into the first year of public schools by allowing children that did not turn five years old until December 2.

But in an effort to provide more age-appropriate services, the Legislature adopted the Kindergarten Readiness Act, requires that children entering kindergarten be at least five years old by Nov. 1 for the 2012-13 school year; October 1 for the 2013-14 school year; and September 1 for the 2014-15 school year and each year thereafter.

The savings generated by the bill, estimated at more than $700 million, will largely be used on the new transitional kindergarten programs for kids too young under the new cutoff date to enter regular kindergarten.

The move to developmentally appropriate curriculum for the state's youngest learners is a significant policy shift for California.

Critics of the early entry date have argued for years that California's youngest kindergarteners are often are not mature enough to deal with the high academic standards and social necessities of school.

Indeed, a recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found that research generally supports the notion that beginning kindergarten at a later age improves children's social and academic development and provides a significant boost to their test scores, especially for children from low-income families.

While planning for the new program, Brown said that district staff and school board members should begin thinking now about their concerns related to logistics, policies and procedures.

One step will be making sure parents are aware of the new laws and start dates, as well as the new transitional program.

Organizing a task force or subcommittee might be a good way to get started and some key issues to consider at the outset:

Funding: The new law allows districts to claim average daily attendance funding for students enrolled in the transitional kindergarten programs.

The state is not providing any new money for professional development or more staff, but Brown notes that existing state and federal programs remain sources of funds including Title I, Title III and Education Impact Aid.

All applicable state categorical programs would also be available.

Brown notes that apportionment dollars are limited to two years per student in either transitional or traditional kindergarten.

Facilities: The classroom requirements are the same for regular kindergarten as well as mandates related to the Williams settlement.

There is, however, no prohibition on schools combining a transitional kindergarten program with a regular kindergarten in the same class.

Class size limits - 33 students maximum and an average of 31 students - also apply.

Curriculum: Just like kindergarten, transitional kindergarteners are required to receive 36,000 instructional minutes per school year with a minimum school day to be 180 minutes.

But Brown points out that LEAs are given some flexibility to create standards and curricula that meet the unique needs of their community.

She notes that LEAs are allowed to draw from multiple resources to construct their adopted transitional kindergarten curriculum.

To read the CSBA policy brief on transitional kindergarten click here:

http://www.csba.org/~/media/Files/EducationIssues/Preschool/2011_07_TransitionalKindergarten_PB.ashx

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