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Governor Newsom Rejects Mandatory Kindergarten Bills

A group of kindergarten students raise their hands in the air, leaning to the right and dancing along with a video displayed at the front of the class. The screen shows a brown egg, the word egg and an upper-and-lower-case letter e. Their teacher wears a red dress and dances along with the students.
Kindergarteners at Toluca Lake Elementary in North Hollywood pair phonics with movement. In a recent interview, LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said 14% fewer students are enrolled in kindergarten now compared to when school started in 2020.
(Mariana Dale
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Kindergarten will continue to be optional for California families.

Governor Newsom Rejects Mandatory Kindergarten Bills

Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed legislation on Sunday that would have made the grade mandatory, citing the up-to-$268 million it would take to educate the estimated 5% of eligible students that don’t currently attend kindergarten.

“With our state facing lower-than-expected revenues over the first few months of this fiscal year, it is important to remain disciplined when it comes to spending,” read Newsom’s veto letters for Assembly Bill 1973 and Senate Bill 70.

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The legislation was supported by education advocates and more than a dozen school districts, including Los Angeles Unified officials who say that attending kindergarten sets students up for success later in school.

“Children who live in poverty are at a clear disadvantage if they miss key services or early intervention that could have been offered prior to first grade,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told KPCC’s AirTalk in August. “This is an issue of equity.”

The law could have also boosted public school enrollment that dipped during the pandemic, particularly in the earliest grades. Carvalho said 14% fewer students are enrolled in kindergarten now compared to when school started in 2020.

"While we're disappointed by the vetoes of this year’s kindergarten bills, we appreciate Governor Newsom’s strong track record as a champion for children and families,” Early Edge California Executive Director Patricia Lozano said in a statement. “During his tenure, he has made major investments in early learning and care. While COVID had an unfortunate impact on kindergarten enrollment, we hope that as we recover from the pandemic, we'll see a restoration of enrollment and attendance.”

Children who live in poverty are at a clear disadvantage if they miss key services or early intervention that could have been offered prior to first grade. This is an issue of equity.
— LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho

The Governor’s veto shows that even as California expands the number of early education options offered at public schools, there’s a limit to what the state is willing to spend.

Families can still send 4- and 5-year-olds to community-based programs, but it’s also possible that without a requirement, some children will miss out on early education programs entirely.

“If the schools don't say that kinder is important, a lot of our families feel that they don't have to go to school,” said Senator Susan Rubio, a former teacher who now who represents part of the San Gabriel Valley, and introduced one of the two kindergarten bills.

California Is In Line With A (Diminishing) Majority Of States

While districts are required to offer kindergarten and transitional kindergarten for younger students, school enrollment isn’t mandatory until kids turn 6 years old.

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Still, the majority of students — 95% — attend either a public or private school kindergarten program, according to the California Department of Education.

California is among the majority of states that don’t require kindergarten. Of the 19 states that do, plus the District of Columbia, 17 and DC require districts to offer full-day programs, according to the Education Commission of the States.

Mandatory Kindergarten Bills Rejected By Gov. Newsom
  • Senate Bill 70: Requires students to complete one year of kindergarten via homeschooling, public, or private school before attending first grade, starting in the 2024-2025 school year.

  • Assembly Bill 1973: Phases in a full-day (vs. a part-day) kindergarten program at all public schools by the 2030-31 school year.

Newsom’s predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, vetoed a proposal for compulsory kindergarten in 2014.

The California Homeschool Network was the only organization to formally voice its opposition to the mandatory kindergarten bills during the legislative process, but some child care providers were also concerned about the consequences for their businesses and the families they serve.

“I was really in fear because I'm watching more and more family child care providers as well as centers close their doors currently due to the fact that we're losing more and more children,” said Los Angeles family child care provider Justine Flores, who is also a member of Child Care Providers United. The union does not have a position on the bills.

Flores said in her more than 15 years as a provider, some families want to keep their kids in family child care for longer because it’s a smaller setting with more one-on-one attention from adults.

In this image, two children play with paints and play dough at a table in the classroom.
Family child care providers say early education also happens in their homes. This image was part of the LAist series Child Care, Unfiltered.
(Jackie Jackson for LAist)

But supporters say without a kindergarten mandate, there’s a risk that unprepared students will fall behind in first grade.

“Teachers are spending quality time just teaching them the basic skills of a classroom, how to sit down, how to raise their hand — all that really cuts into the quality time for teachers to educate and for students to learn,” Rubio said.

Rubio said she plans to re-introduce the bill to require kindergarten in the next legislative session.

“A lot of the times, we're stuck on the finances of how expensive it is to mandate kindergarten,” Rubio said. “But we don't see that we pay for it in so many other ways— whether it's after school tutoring, before school. We have to have summer school [and] intervention teachers. The list goes on and on.”

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, who supported AB 1973, said in a statement he would work to allocate funding next year to "finish the job."

What questions do you have about early childhood education and development? What do you want to know about kids ages 0-5 and those who care for them in Southern California?
Decades of research indicates early childhood education significantly boosts children’s readiness to learn. Mariana Dale wants families, caregivers and educators to have the information they need to help children 0-5 grow and thrive by identifying what’s working and what’s not in California’s early childhood system.

Updated September 27, 2022 at 4:16 PM PDT
This story was updated to note that Child Care Providers United does not have a position on mandatory kindergarten legislation.