Kindergarten may soon be mandatory for California children

California is set to require children to attend kindergarten, a requirement that would come after many of the state’s youngest students skipped class during the COVID-19 pandemic and increased gap problems of learning.

A bill approved by the state Senate late Monday night is headed to the governor’s office and, if signed, would require children to complete a year of kindergarten before entering first grade, starting at the 2024-25 school year.

Like most states, California does not require kindergarten as part of its compulsory education laws. California children aged 5 are eligible for kindergarten, but are not required by law to attend school until age 6.

Under SB 70 by Sen. Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), California would join 19 states where kindergarten is not an option but a requirement. The bill clarifies that other early education programs, such as transitional kindergarten, which is for 4-year-olds, do not count towards the requirement. Under the bill, students can choose to attend a public or private kindergarten.

“This ensures that children receive essential instruction in their early years of learning and that they are properly prepared,” Rubio, a former public school teacher, said Monday. “For students who weren’t enrolled in kindergarten, teachers and parents often spend far too much time trying to teach foundational skills, and their peers are already ahead and have mastered those skills.”

Although kindergarten is already well attended — about 95% of eligible students enrolled before COVID-19, according to the California Department of Education — supporters of the bill said allowing the grade to be optional misled parents about its benefits.

Early education advocates point to research that shows kindergarten helps form social and academic skills that are essential for lifelong development — and those who ignore it could fall behind their peers.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is one of the bill’s sponsors. Supt. Alberto Carvalho said the district’s youngest students have been among the hardest to enroll after the pandemic.

“Mandating a full year of kindergarten ensures students have high-quality academic, social, and developmentally appropriate learning experiences,” Carvalho said.

California schools have seen unusual declines in enrollment, with kindergarten accounting for a disproportionate share of the decline. Kindergarten enrollment fell by 61,000 students in 2020-21, according to state data.

Although that data is skewed by the pandemic, as parents pulled out during a tumultuous year of remote learning due to virus outbreaks, supporters of the bill said families might think that kindergarten is not essential because it is optional.

Alison Yoshimoto-Towery, academic director of LA Unified, told lawmakers at an Assembly Education Committee hearing in June that low-income families are less likely to opt for kindergarten. Absenteeism rates are also disproportionately higher in the classroom because families don’t take it seriously, she said.

“Making it mandatory allows the district to reach out, to call, to do house calls, to counsel parents,” Yoshimoto-Towery said. “It fills that opportunity gap earlier.”

The California Homeschool Network opposed the bill, calling it an “unnecessary” mandate that limits choice.

“This new legislation would require them to start kindergarten regardless of their preparation and social skills – in other words, requiring 13 years of formal education instead of 12,” the group said in a statement of opposition. . “Better education policy would consider both proficiency and maturity, not chronological age.”

Another bill, AB 1973 by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), seeks to require all school districts to offer full-day kindergarten. Currently, some districts only offer part-time programs that last three hours a day.

Although Newsom has made early education part of his gubernatorial agenda, increasing access to kindergarten and transitional kindergarten across the state, his Treasury Department opposes the bill because Cost. A legislative analysis estimated the increase in state funding at a few hundred million a year based on the assumption that 30,000 additional children would enroll in school.

Previous attempts to make kindergarten mandatory in California have failed. In 2014, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed an identical bill.

“Most children are already attending kindergarten, and those who are not may be enrolled in other educational or developmental programs deemed more appropriate for them by their families,” Brown said in his veto message at the time. “I would rather let parents determine what is best for their children, than impose a whole new grade level.”

Times writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.

Los Angeles Times

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