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Is Transitional Kindergarten Really That Hard to Fund?

Senator Joe Simitian, who authored the law requiring TK in California, says it shouldn't be as hard to fund it as school districts are making it out to be.

 

It's no secret that the state of California is in financial crisis - and that one of the areas being hit the hardest is education.

For that reason, though many support the idea behind the Kindergarten Readiness Act and its subsequent mandate that all schools offer Transitional Kindergarten (TK) for children born late in the year, they also say, it's hard to support the idea for financial reasons.

In other words, some say, the people of California just can't support a state mandate to start offering a new program that costs additional money that just isn't there.

So, Patch decided to go directly to the man - California State Sen. Joe Simitian, who authored SB 1381, otherwise known as the Kindergarten Readiness Act, changing the minimum age requirements so that all children must turn 5 years old by Sept. 1 in order to start kindergarten that year, and mandating that all schools in the state offer TK for students that otherwise would have been old enough to start kindergarten, having a birthday that falls between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2.

Patch had a conversation with Simitian recently and asked him this very question - what do you think about the fact that many school districts throughout the state say they can't afford to offer TK, to the extent that some are saying they refuse to offer it until the state provides the money to pay for it?

In a nutshell, Simitian said, those school districts are confused, and that offering TK should not cost them a penny more than it does to offer kindergarten right now.
 

Simitian: 'The money is there'

Simitian explained, the money for kindergarten and TK is part of what is known in the legislation as "Continuous Appropriations." That means, each year, the money to keep schools open is not something that is subject to a vote or a budget, it is automatically earmarked for California schools. 

"The funding is there," he said. "It is not something the Governor can remove from the budget."

Furthermore, Simitian said, the school districts that say they can't afford to start offering TK are confused about the idea behind the law and how it's supposed to be carried out.

In a nutshell, it's a matter of shuffling around the school's current resources, not paying for additional resources, to carry out offering TK.

By changing the law and declaring that all students must be 5 by Sept. 1 in order to start kindergarten, Simitian said, schools will basically see their kindergarten class sizes drop.

Simitian said, a lot of how a district looks at TK depends on whether the district is "basic aid" - meaning, funded through local property taxes - or "revenue-limit" - meaning, funded by the state based by the number of students enrolled.

Simitian explained, it behooves revenue-limit districts to offer TK because it would replace the students the district will lose to the new age requirement with TK students, so they keep their per-student funding. 

Likewise, Simitian said, offering TK should not adversely affect a basic aid district's budget, since they are funded by property taxes and not the number of students. Again, Simitian reiterated, it's about shuffling around a school's kindergarten resources, not paying for additional resources.

Therefore, for example, if a school currently has five kindergarten classrooms in order to serve the number of students enrolled in kindergarten each year by the old age requirement, the school now might only need four classrooms. That fifth classroom could then be transformed into a TK classroom.

In other words, Simitian said, "There should be no additional costs, and no additional classrooms needed [in order for that school to offer TK]," he said.

"You're still serving the same number of kids, just now, a certain number of them will be in a TK classroom instead of a kindergarten classroom."

When you look at it that way, it becomes hard to understand why so many districts are claiming they can't offer TK, he added.

Patch then asked Simitian, why are so many districts out there confused over how to make TK work in their schools?

Simitian responded, "I don't know. There's a lot of confusion out there. Although, the school districts should have a more refined understanding of this than the average person."

"School districts up and down the state should know about this by now," he continued. "Any school that chooses to provide TK will be fully funded."
 

What about the Governor?

Many officials from school districts across the state are still biting their nails, waiting to find out just how much funding Gov. Jerry Brown is going to take away from schools as he desperately tries to balance the state budget.

Earlier this year, Simitian said the Governor tried to pass a state budget that did away with TK - meaning, he wanted to keep the $700 million in savings statewide that would come from not allowing children who don't meet the new kindergarten age requirement to enroll in school and use it to pay for other state needs.

Simitian said, the governor's thinking was, by keeping the age requirement but making TK optional, many schools would opt out, saying they can't afford to offer it.

Thankfully, Simitian said, the state legislature rejected Gov. Brown's proposal by a 3-1 vote.

"So, TK remains the law, and the funding is still in place," he said, adding that any school district that does not have a TK program in place come the first day of the 2012-13 school year in the fall will be in violation of state law.

Simitian said, when he authored the Kindergarten Readiness Act and fought for it to be passed, he never intended to leave California schools squandering to afford to offer something that he, in essence, made mandatory.

"That would mean parents [of children with late-year birthdays] would have to fend for themselves, and that makes me heartbroken," he said.
 

How is the San Mateo-Foster City School District faring?

Amber Farinha, coordinator of community services for the San Mateo-Foster City School District (SMFCSD), said, basically, it wasn't easy, but that the district supports the idea behind the Kindergarten Readiness Act and helping young children be more prepared for success in school, so the district made it work whatever way it could.

The district plans to offer a total of five TK classrooms on the campuses of in Foster City; , and elementaries in San Mateo; and a combination TK-kindergarten class at in San Mateo. Registration is already underway.

As of this week. Farinha confirmed that 76 students have already registered to attend TK classes in the SMFCSD in the fall.

Currently, the SMFCSD is a basic aid district, although, year-to-year, it tends to bounce back and forth between basic aid and revenue-limit, as many districts in the state do.

While some districts may decide they can't afford to be responsible for young children that aren't old enough for kindergarten yet, Farinha said, "The SMFCSD considers all TK-aged children to be our students. We believe that early childhood education provides the foundation for future success."

In regards to the condition of the district's budget, Farinha said, "Our Board decided to allocate funds to equip classrooms, purchase curriculum and provide professional development [for TK] back in March."

Even if the state did decide to make TK optional while still keeping the new age requirements, Farinha said, "At this time, SB 1381, or TK, is still a mandate. If that were to change, the Board will still ensure that our youngest learners have access to a quality education program."

For more information about SMFCSD's Transitional Kindergarten program in the fall, including how to register, 

For more information on the Kindergarten Readiness Act (SB 1381), visit the California Department of Education's website.

 

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Chris Kiely June 13, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Odd. My local District puts a price tag on TK. I agree that rev-limit district will be getting more money if there are more kids. I think where the crunch may be is in the borderline basic aid district. they are barely scraping by above the revenue limit, are paying back "fair share" requirements, and coping with massive Special Ed deficits. It is easy to assume that they must have some $$ availble to move around; I'd suggest, however, that funding or de-funding other commitments is not so easy. In those districts, that money is already being spent on something else. Telling a nominally basic-aid district that they need to reallocate resources to a new program sounds like a mandate to me. Guess we'll wait to see if a test claim gets filed.

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