California can't afford to cut transitional kindergarten [Blowback]
Catherine Atkin, president of Preschool California, responds to The Times' Feb. 29 editorial, "California to some kids: No." Atkin's response is on behalf of the Save Kindergarten Coalition of school districts, superintendents, educators, parents, business and civic leaders and groups supporting full access to kindergarten for all children this fall. If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed and would like to participate in Blowback, here are our FAQs and submission policy.
The Times' editorial board got it right that many children would benefit from transitional kindergarten, a developmentally-appropriate grade specifically designed to serve younger students who are unprepared for today's more academically advanced kindergarten.
Research shows that transitional kindergarten results in greater academic achievement, higher graduation rates and better jobs, and saves schools money by reducing the number of students entering special education and being held back a grade.
The Times got it wrong, however, about the governor's proposal to eliminate transitional kindergarten resulting in cost savings.
Cutting transitional kindergarten will save little to no money. Having already cut in half their estimates of the alleged cost savings, the governor's own staff doesn't even know how much it may or may not save. Nor do they propose to apply these supposed savings to the state deficit. This is because school districts have a strong financial incentive to provide transitional kindergarten for all students to avoid these additional cuts. That's why more than 100 districts have already come out and said they are enrolling children in transitional kindergarten despite the governor's proposal.
Under current law, however, transitional kindergarten doesn't cost any new dollars until 2025. It doesn't expand the number of students enrolled in schools. It is simply a wiser way to spend existing funds in a more economical and efficient way to get our youngest students off to a smart start.
Cutting transitional kindergarten would be more costly in both the short and long term because it would result in more students being placed in special education, being held back or dropping out of school.
The Times also got it wrong by claiming that children will be more prepared for kindergarten merely by waiting an extra year.
Research by Deborah Stipek and others clearly shows that simply moving kindergarten entry dates back impaired students' academic performance, especially for low-income students. Being in school for a year, even in a classroom that is not developmentally appropriate, is still better than no school at all.
What kind of a California are we creating if the Brown administration's proposal to eliminate transitional kindergarten goes forward? The proposal could deny 125,000 children their right to public school, and it is creating chaos and confusion throughout the state.
Already, some school districts are moving forward with implementation, while others are on hold. Next year we could see a child in the Los Angeles Unified School District having access to transitional kindergarten while another child in Inglewood or Compton would not. That's like offering second grade to some students but not to others. This would further widen the achievement gap and erode equal opportunity for success in school.
Superintendents throughout the state, who are constantly asked to do more with less, are moving forward with transitional kindergarten registration because they recognize it as a wise investment. Parents, educators, business and law enforcement leaders also oppose the Brown administration's proposal.
Although the future of transitional kindergarten in some school districts is uncertain, what is certain is that cutting transitional kindergarten is a shortsighted mistake that California can't afford.
Photo: Shanette Song tells about her son's experience with learning and improving at transitional kindergarten at George Washington Carver elementary on Feb. 7. In the foreground is a poster showing the percentage of children who will be affected by Governor Brown's cutbacks. Credit: Los Angeles Times