Transitional kindergarten thrown into doubt

Local school districts may rework, or scrap altogether, plans to offer a free pre-kindergarten year for children with fall birthdays now that state funding for the program has been thrown into doubt.

“We can’t offer more certainty than we have,” said Glendale Unified school board President Joylene Wagner. “A family who has a child who is born in November — I would say they better have a backup plan.”

Education officials had already set in motion changes to bring their districts into compliance with the Kindergarten Readiness Act. Signed into law in 2010 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, it requires that all students entering kindergarten in 2014 must turn 5 by Sept. 1 — three months earlier than the current Dec. 2 cutoff date.

It also mandates a special pre-kindergarten program — known as transitional kindergarten — for those born between September and December, making students with fall birthdays eligible for two years of instruction before starting first grade.

The Glendale and Burbank school districts planned to shift the birthday cutoff date forward by one month each year — Nov. 1 in 2012, Oct. 1 in 2013 and Sept. 1 in 2014 — while also launching transitional kindergarten this fall.

But Gov. Jerry Brown’s latest budget proposal does not include funding for transitional kindergarten, and school officials have been told they may not be required to comply with that component of the legislation.

“[There] seems to be across the political landscape support now for the elimination of the mandatory transitional kindergarten,” Burbank Unified Supt. Stan Carrizosa said at a school board meeting earlier this month.

Districts that choose to fund it will likely do so out of their own pockets, he said.

While most districts will opt to “shelve it for now,” Carrizosa said Burbank will probably invest the energy already spent on developing transitional kindergarten into its existing child care center program. The changes will have to come back to the board for review in the coming months.

Glendale Unified is still exploring options to provide some sort of two-year kindergarten program for students with fall birthdays despite the uncertainty of state funding, said Assistant Supt. Katherine Fundukian Thorossian.

The scenarios will go before the school board for consideration next month, she said.

“What we are trying to do is see if we can come up with some sort of alternative that is still financially viable within our district and still meets the guidelines, even if the worst case scenario occurred,” Thorossian said.

Roughly 150 November-born students within Glendale Unified would be eligible for transitional kindergarten in the fall, Thorossian said.

“You have some very immature kindergartners... and sometimes all it takes in terms of success is giving them that extra year to blossom,” she said.

Wagner said transitional kindergarten is a laudable idea, but a difficult state budget situation means that now might not be the right time to launch the program.

“If the money is yanked, I don’t know that we can or we should,” Wagner said of offering a pre-kindergarten year. “We have to study up the options.”

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