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Early Childhood Education

Transitional Kindergarten Is The Centerpiece of Newsom’s Early Childhood Education Plans

A transitional kindergartener at Harding Elementary in Sylmar plays with blocks as Kelly Gonez, president of the L.A. Unified school board, looks on. The student has been given her own set of toys; shared toys, materials and supplies are not allowed in L.A. Unified School District classrooms under reopening guidelines for hybrid instruction.
A transitional kindergartener at Harding Elementary in Sylmar plays with blocks as Kelly Gonez, president of the L.A. Unified school board, looks on.
(Kyle Stokes
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Gov. Gavin Newsom envisions opening public school early education programs to all 4-year-olds in the state by the start of the 2024-25 school year.

“We talk often about the achievement gap. I have always countered, it's not an achievement gap, because that assumes people have been left behind,” Newsom said at Friday’s May Budget Revise press conference. “It's not that they're left behind," he said. "It's so often — more often — that they start behind.”

To push kids ahead, Newsom wants to expand transitional kindergarten, known as TK, at the cost of $2.7 billion a year once the plan is fully implemented.

Expanding the TK program is the most significant proposal for young children and their families in the revised budget, which also includes:

  • $250 million to help school districts plan and roll out transitional kindergarten for all 4-year-olds.
  • 100,000 new subsidized child care slots, partially paid for by cannabis tax revenues.
  • $250 million in one-time federal funding to build and renovate child care facilities, especially in child care deserts areas without enough child care.
  • $579 million in a new coronavirus relief package that would pay stipends to providers, fund mental health support for young kids and waive fees for families in the state’s subsidized child care program.
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In part, these new funding measures are spurred by the expected $75.7 billion budget surplus this year, a far cry from where the state was a year ago. Let’s take a minute to remember that the headline from our story last year at this time included the phrase, “Devastating Budget Shortfall.”

There’s still a lot to be worked out — and the legislature has until June 15 to pass the budget.

There’s been nervous excitement from advocates and child care providers.

Child care workers have waited for years to be recognized — and compensated — for their work helping build young children’s brains, but there are longstanding challenges within the early childhood system.

Child care for a 4-year-old costsan average of $956 a month in California, and less than half of 4-year-olds here areenrolled in a public preschool program.

Low-income families wait weeks and even years for subsidized child care. The number of spaces in preschools and other early education centers has been shrinking for years, and since the start of the pandemic the state has lost at least 57,000 child care slots due to the permanent closures of child care centers.

“California is a large, diverse state. It is not a one-size-fits-all state,” said Donna Sneeringer, chief strategy officer of the Child Care Resource Center in the San Fernando Valley during a Senate budget hearing Thursday. “I think the concerns many of us have with the transitional kindergarten proposal is it takes the parent choice out and gives them a one-size-fits-all approach.”

Right now, transitional kindergarten is only available for kids who have their 5th birthday between September and December of the current school year. The Governor’s plan calls for phasing in new students starting in 2022.

To be clear, no family would be required to enroll in transitional kindergarten — it’s an optional program. (California does not mandate kindergarten, either.)

What some child care providers and advocates are concerned about is that if a bunch of families are drawn to this new free preschool option, it could make it harder for other preschools or child care centers to stay in business — which means there may be fewer providers around to serve families that need more than the three or even six hours of care that transitional kindergarten might offer.

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“We need to remember that [child care providers] are part of the early education infrastructure, and they need to be considered in the same breath as we say transitional kindergarten [and] K through 12,” said Max Arias, chair of Child Care Providers United.

The union is in the midst of negotiations with the state over its first labor contract. In Los Angeles County, family child care providers are primarily women of color and earn on average less than $12 an hour.

"We have a structural issue," Arias said, because society doesn't consider child care work to be valuable. "But the work is essential to society," he said.

Please share your questions and comments about transitional kindergarten or other child care programs in the box below. They’ll help me with future stories.