Kindergarten teachers and advocates for early education are protesting Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to defund a kindergarten program that would serve children whose fifth birthdays come after a new cutoff date for entry.
“It’s balancing the budget on the backs of these kindergartners and their families,” said state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, a member of the Senate Education Committee.
Simitian sponsored the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, which gradually increases the age at which children become eligible for kindergarten.
While current kindergartners became eligible if their fifth birthday occurred by Dec. 2, by 2014 that date will be Sept. 1.
Beginning this year, the law also requires school districts to offer children with birthdays that fall between the old and new dates a year of “transitional kindergarten.”
But in a budget proposal released last week, Brown called for the elimination of per-pupil funding for students who would have been in transitional kindergarten.
The governor estimated the move would save California $223.7 million.
Debra Weller, former president of the California Kindergarten Association and a teacher in Orange County, said that transitional kindergarten would save the state more money in the long term because children who are not well-prepared to start school are more likely to need special education or remediation, or have to repeat a grade later on.
“He doesn’t realize the repercussions of his proposal,” Weller said.
While the Legislature would still have to repeal the 2010 law in order to realize the immediate savings, the governor’s proposal puts parents of November babies in a quandary.
“For parents, this is a real nightmare,” said Catherine Atkin, president of the advocacy group Preschool California. “They’ll be sent scrambling looking for a place to send their kids while they’re working.”
Making that more difficult, Atkin noted, is another item in the governor’s proposed education budget: $516.8 million in cuts to child care funding.