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Apodaca: New cut-off dates complicate kindergarten

April 21, 2012|By Patrice Apodaca

Kindergarten hasn't always been complicated.

I still remember my first day, when Miss Floor told us that we were going to learn to read, and pointed to "the Big Red Book" at the far end of the classroom.

I was excited, but I had misheard my soft-spoken teacher, and spent the next day wondering how a "big red hook" was going to help me read. I soon figured it out, and took to reading like a dog to a bone.

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In those days, few of my classmates had attended pre-school — or "nursery school," as it was often called then — and anyone who met the minimum age requirement was sent to kindergarten without question.

These days, kindergarten has gone all strategic and controversial. We fret over children's "readiness" for kindergarten, analyze the academic pace for 5-year-olds, and worry that a subpar experience in the first year of formal education will doom kids to "falling behind."

Now we're about to add to the confusion. Starting this September, a new state law will take effect that changes the minimum age for kindergarten.

California law has long held that children must turn 5 years old by Dec. 2 of a given school year to be eligible for kindergarten enrollment. Under the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, that date will be pushed back to Nov. 1 in the 2012-13 school year, Oct. 1 the following year, and will settle at Sept. 1 starting in 2014.

The change conforms to starting dates in many other states, as well as earlier cutoffs at most private schools.

A great deal of uncertainty revolves around the change. Under the new law, districts must institute a "transitional kindergarten," part of a two-year kindergarten program for kids who would have qualified for enrollment under the old cutoff date.

However, the law doesn't specify what transitional kindergarten should look like, and leaves it up to each district to figure it out.

Moreover, funding for the new program remains highly doubtful.

It will cost an estimated $243 million to implement transitional kindergarten in the next school year — money that the near-bankrupt state doesn't have. Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget for the next fiscal year would eliminate all funding for transitional kindergarten, and he has called for such programs to be optional.

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