Angered by Gov. Pete Wilson’s budget-trimming plan to block 110,000 kindergartners statewide from entering school this fall, Los Angeles school officials, parents and a bevy of small children gathered outside a North Hollywood elementary school Monday to register their opposition to the proposal.
“The Los Angeles school district is standing here with one voice,” school board President Leticia Quezada told an applauding crowd of about 50 people outside Camellia Avenue Elementary School. “We will not tolerate Wilson keeping our kindergartners out of school, and we do not accept his $2-billion cuts in education.”
Two weeks ago, Wilson proposed delaying the start of kindergarten by a year for youngsters who reach age 5 after Sept. 1, instead of Dec. 1, as the rule now stands. Dogged by a political deadlock that has forced California to pay its bills with IOUs, Wilson said the state would save about $335 million by yanking 110,000 children off public school rolls this fall.
In the Los Angeles Unified School District, about 13,500 prospective kindergartners would be prevented from entering school under the plan, according to district officials. But scores of students who would be affected by the change have already started class at year-round campuses such as Camellia Avenue.
“We have children right now who were born between September and December,” Camellia Avenue Principal Judith Hergesheimer said. “I don’t know if we’re supposed to tap them on the shoulder and take them out.”
Monday’s news conference--also attended by school board members Barbara Boudreaux, Jeff Horton and Roberta Weintraub--was organized by the Unusual Coalition of Los Angeles, a school-advocacy group composed of administrators, parents, teachers and other school employees. The event also was the first formal appearance by Horton and Quezada in the San Fernando Valley since the recent redistricting that has given them Valley constituents.
The board members urged the elimination of tax loopholes for the wealthy, saying the money would be better directed toward education, including funding for kindergarten classes.
“You can deduct interest payments on a yacht, and here we’re talking cutting kindergarten,” Horton said, flanked by signs lauding legislators who rejected Wilson’s plan and encouraging parents to call the “bad guys” who supported the cuts.
Another sign depicted a padlock and chain with the slogan: “Do you like kindergarten? Come back next year.”
Diane Simons, 33, a Northridge parent whose 4-year-old twins were born Sept. 19, said her daughters were already looking forward to starting school.
“They’ve gone up to look at the school, we’ve bought lunch boxes, we’ve been preparing,” Simons said. “They’re excited; they want to go. They’re not going to understand why most of their friends are going and why they aren’t.”
She and others also said it was difficult to reconcile Wilson’s support for Head Start--a government-funded preschool program--and the plan to change the kindergarten eligibility date. Wilson Administration officials have defended the plan as educationally sound, saying that many youngsters start kindergarten before they are ready. But educators across the state, including Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig, have condemned the proposal.
“There has been in the past years an impetus for getting children into schools earlier, not later,” said Sue Wasserman, a professor at Cal State Northridge’s School of Education who specializes in early childhood education.
“I would say everyone who’s been involved in education knows that the sooner you get children into the schools, provide them with a viable educational program, the better they’re going to do over the years. Anything that would deter children from entering the schools early is inadvisable, to say the least.”