While the state legislature has mandated that school districts across California put transitional kindergarten programs into action at the start of the next school year (Kindergarten Readiness Act), Oakdale Joint Unified School District is putting the implementation of it on hold.
OJUSD Superintendent Marc Malone said that the district put together a plan, the curriculum, and has a committee in place so as to unveil the program next year, but according to Governor Jerry Brown’s recent proposed budget, there will be no finances coming from the state.
“We’re in a situation where we don’t feel good about putting in a program,” Malone said. “...We’re not saying ‘no,’ we’re saying, ‘not now.’”
The Kindergarten Readiness Act (SB1381) was passed by the state legislature in 2010 that made for an earlier cutoff age for students to start kindergarten. That also included a transitional kindergarten program, designed to serve those children who fall in the younger age group. The previous cutoff was to be age five by Dec. 2 in order to enter kindergarten.
SB1381 amended education code, requiring that students starting kindergarten must turn age five by Sept. 1 of the school year. Children whose fifth birthdays fall between Sept. 2 – Dec. 2 would have their start of kindergarten delayed. The new requirement would be phased in over a three-year period starting in the 2012-2013 school year.
As it stands right now, for the 2012-2013 school year, the cutoff will be Nov. 1. The following year, 2013-2014, will be Oct. 1 and the 2014-2015 year will be Sept. 1, where it will remain.
OJUSD Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Barbara Shook said that younger students generally have more challenges when they enter kindergarten.
“We’re encouraging this change in (birth) dates to continue,” she said.
Transitional kindergarten, which would be called Kindergarten Academy in OJUSD, uses modified kindergarten curriculum and is also open to students who are less mature socially or academically, as well as those who are English learners or have special education needs, but are no younger than those who fall into that bumped age group.
“It’s not intended to be a preschool program,” Shook clarified.
In Brown’s budget proposal, it also calls for a lifting of the mandate to have transitional kindergarten but there’s not a change to the age cutoff progression. However, the legislature must also agree to lift the mandate if the schools are to keep the transitional kindergarten programs on hold. Some school districts have already started Transitional kindergarten programs. If OJUSD must implement its Kindergarten Academy for the next school year, it will have to allocate money from other areas of its budget.
Malone stated that he was recently in Sacramento gathering information about the issue and was told to get the curriculum in place but to be careful about not putting a mandated program in place.
“It’s kind of on hold at this point and who knows what’s going to come down (from the state),” Shook said. “…The timing is horrible.”
OJUSD has 376 kindergarteners this year, and the number of kindergarten students typically hovers around 400 each year, Shook said. According to analysis done by the district, approximately one-fourth of the district’s upcoming kindergarten population will be affected by the birthday cutoff.
Should transitional kindergarten be implemented, class sizes will be smaller but a few years later, new teachers would need to be hired to accommodate the students as they get into the upper elementary school grades.
As far as ADA (Average Daily Attendance) money, Shook said that the legislation will reduce the amount of students per year, but that’s not seen as a negative if the district can implement the new Kindergarten Academy.
“Where it will affect us is if we don’t do transitional kindergarten,” Shook said.
She added that the district has tried to do some studies into the birthdates of students and they don’t think it will be a large amount of ADA money reduction for those with November birthdays. However, there’s a much larger amount of September and October birthdays, she said. So if the birthdates to start kindergarten continue to be bumped back by a month each consecutive year and there’s still no funding for transitional kindergarten, that’s where the district will feel the pinch.
The change in the age cutoff coupled with a lack of transitional kindergarten will also create issues for families in finding and paying for childcare and kindergarten-readiness programs. Various reports state that the governor’s proposal will prevent 125,000 children statewide from entering a kindergarten program, equal to one-fourth of kindergarten-aged students.