After months of uncertainty, Burbank Unified officials this week said they will launch a free, pre-kindergarten program for children with fall birthdays for the coming school year.
The decision followed confirmation from Los Angeles County education officials that the extra year of schooling, dubbed “transitional kindergarten,” will be financially supported, said Thomas Kissinger, director of elementary education at Burbank Unified.
“We have pretty solid reasons to believe this will be a program that will be funded next year by the state of California,” Kissinger said.
Last fall, Burbank Unified set plans in motion to bring the district into compliance with the Kindergarten Readiness Act, a law signed in 2010 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that requires all students entering kindergarten in 2014 to turn 5 by Sept. 1 — three months earlier than the previous Dec. 2 cutoff date.
It also mandates a special pre-kindergarten year for those born between September and December, making students with fall birthdays eligible for two years of instruction before starting first grade.
Burbank Unified, like many of its neighbors, planned to phase in the amended cutoff date by shifting it forward one month each year — Nov. 1 in 2012, Oct. 1 in 2013 and Sept. 1 in 2014 — while introducing transitional kindergarten this fall.
But in January, state funding for the program was thrown into doubt, and Supt. Stan Carrizosa announced the district might fold what was to be transitional kindergarten into its existing, fee-based preschool program at its Horace Mann Child Care Center.
Despite the back-and-forth, the latest news has been welcomed by school officials and parents, who have been flooding Kissinger’s office with phone calls, he said.
“We have so many parents who have children who were born between Nov. 2 and Dec. 2 who have been hoping for this funding to come through, and for us to be able to tell them that we are moving ahead is great news altogether,” Kissinger said.
The district expects to fill at least two transitional kindergarten classes, serving between 50 and 60 children, at Horace Mann and the Burbank Adult School, Kissinger said. Priority will be given to students born in November, followed by October and September birthdays.
Transitional kindergarten will be at least a half day, with a curriculum and structure that closely mirrors that of traditional kindergarten, Kissinger said.
The program will help to better prepare students for academic life while also serving families who can’t easily afford high-priced preschools or other forms of child care.
“This has been a huge positive for parents who [earn] modest incomes,” Kissinger said.