In his latest budget, the Democratic governor proposed a permanent elimination of funds for transitional kindergarten, a new program designed to serve children not yet ready for regular kindergarten. It would save $223.7 million in 2012-13 and $672 million at full implementation in 2014-15.
In 2010, lawmakers passed a measure to phase in an earlier cutoff age for kindergarten over three years starting in the 2012-13 school year. Students previously could enter kindergarten if they were 5 years old by Dec. 2.
The new law requires them to be 5 by Nov. 2 in 2012-13, Oct. 2 in 2013-14 and Sept. 1 in 2014-15. The shift came after years of debate over whether California was starting some students in kindergarten earlier than was beneficial for their development.
Under Brown's plan, the state would save money by having fewer children in the school system as the cutoff age phases in.
Before lawmakers approved the 2010 bill, a major concern was what would happen to children who no longer qualify for kindergarten, particularly those from low-income families that could not easily afford private pre-kindergarten programs. State leaders compromised by providing money for school districts to run the transitional program for those students, said Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto.
"The governor is talking about depriving 125,000 kids a year an opportunity to go to school," Simitian said. "I think it's a non-starter."
Catherine Atkin, president of Preschool California, a group that advocates for early childhood programs, said low-income families would be at significant risk, especially as the state eliminates child care slots. Brown's budget would eliminate 71,000 child care positions, for which there are already long wait lists for those who qualify.
"I think a lot of these kids are going to end up being at home in care that doesn't necessarily meet their needs or provide the kind of experience they need to be prepared for kindergarten," Atkin said. "I think a lot of parents, frankly, I don't know what they're going to do."
PHOTO CREDIT: Four year-old Abigail Castellanos naps in Laura Bingham's kindergarten class at Regency Park Elementary School on Aug. 23, 2010, in Sacramento. Paul Kitagaki Jr. / Sacramento Bee file.