California could offer universal transitional kindergarten

More will be known on Friday when Gov. Jerry Brown introduces his annual budget proposal. Brown wants to increase reserves, so he supports a rainy day fund. He has said California has to learn to say no when necessary and yes when it's appropriate.

This is the second year the Noriega Early Education School in San Francisco has offered transitional kindergarten. Here's how it works. For this this school year, if a child turned five after October 1, he or she would not be allowed to attend kindergarten. Instead, they would have the option to go to transitional kindergarten. Next year, that entry date moves to September 1.

"When they enter kindergarten, they will have down the basic skills in language arts, literacy, math and science," explained site administrator Candace Lee.

Now, lawmakers in Sacramento have introduced a bill that would require all school districts in California to offer transitional kindergarten to every 4-year-old by 2020. It's called the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2014.

Stanford's Deborah Stipek says research has shown that experience during the first five years of life have long-term effects on children's brains in ways that affect their learning long into their future.

"Invest in kids now and reap the rewards of a better-educated and more productive workforce, and healthier state, or pay the price later," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

Speaking of a price tag, Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg is asking for $200 million to fund transitional kindergarten for the first year. As the program expands to include all 4-year-olds, Steinberg estimates it would add $1 billion to the state's general fund.

For now, the money would come from the state's projected surplus money -- but only after, Steinberg says, other programs are funded. "And we are committed to paying down debt. We are committed to putting money in a rainy day fund," he said.

No state has ever offered universal transitional kindergarten. California could be the first.

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