California democrats propose universal preschool program

Head Start preschool class Courtesy of Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/MCT
Head Start Preschool Class
Courtesy of Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/MCT

On January 7th, California Senator Darrell Steinberg (D), along with other California democrats, proposed Senate Bill 837, also known as the 2014 Kindergarten Readiness Act. The act proposes a universal preschool program geared to make transitional kindergarten available for all four-year-olds, regardless of familial income.
The proposed universal preschool program will allow immigrant and low-income families to enroll their children in kindergarten. The current Kindergarten Readiness Act allows parents of students who turn five-years old from October 2 to December 2 to enroll their children in transitional kindergarten. The current measure restricts parents from enrolling four-year-olds in transitional kindergarten and ensures that children are physically and mentally mature enough to learn before entering school. Instead, the proposed 2014 Kindergarten Readiness Act will allow parents to enroll children who turn five years old from September 2 to February 1 in the universal transitional kindergarten program. This new measure will require all California school districts to offer transitional kindergarten to all four-year-olds by 2020. Steinberg and other California democrats believe that allowing parents to enroll their four-year-olds, especially those children who did not attend preschool or have a qualifying familial circumstance is essential to teach the children critical and communication skills earlier to potentially improve their readiness for the public schooling system.
The Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) currently offers transitional kindergarten only to students who turn five between October 2 and December 2. Irvine initially offered a federally funded Head Start preschool program to three and four-year-olds of families qualified under the federal poverty level. But, the Irvine Head Start program was shut down last year due to budget cuts.
Steinberg’s bill can potentially create a new transitional kindergarten program within IUSD, allowing Irvine families to enroll their four-year-olds into select schools. Currently, nine of the twenty-four elementary schools in Irvine have transitional kindergarten, including Turtle Rock and University Park Elementary Schools. According to IUSD, the current Irvine voluntary transitional kindergarten program is a “hybrid that combines essential foundations of preschool with the California Common Core Standards for kindergarten.”
The universal transitional kindergarten program, which is proposed to be implemented statewide in 2015, is voluntary and will cost California around $1 billion annually, increasing California Proposition 98 funds. According to the California Budget Project, California Proposition 98 requires a certain percentage of the state’s budget to be spent for K-12 education. The universal preschool program is projected to add over 350,000 children to public schools, increasing the demand for teachers and classroom aides and potentially lowering statewide teaching unemployment rates. The proposed bill requires both morning and afternoon sessions in transitional kindergarten, with not more than twenty students per class and at least one class aide per session.
Supporters of the universal transitional kindergarten program argue that the cost of creating a universal preschool program for four-year-olds can save money for future academic needs. According to proponents of Steinberg’s bill, fewer students will be held back to repeat a year and participate in juvenile crime system if they enroll in the proposed universal transitional kindergarten program because the students will learn critical thinking skills earlier. Meleeka Akbarpour (Jr.), who has a four-year-old brother who is currently attending preschool, said “I think it is crucial for all four-year-olds to have the opportunity to go to pre-school, regardless of income. I have seen my brother and his peers not only develop critical reading skills, but also learn how to cooperate and work with other kids their own age in preschool. A universal preschool program for all four-year-olds will allow students to be mentally prepared for kindergarten and first grade.”
According to San Jose Mercury News, half of low-income children statewide attend state preschool and head start programs. Supporters claim that the bill will increase the number of low-income and immigrant children in preschool.
Others, however, argue that the bill unfairly and unnecessarily requires taxpayers to pay for students’ education. Some citizens worry that transitional kindergarten for four-year-olds will not make a difference in the students’ education in the long-run, and will only add debt to the state’s budget.
Staff Writer