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A proposal to expand transitional kindergarten to all four-year-old children in California cleared its first hurdle this week, but opposition and a major funding problem could doom its chances in the state Legislature.
"I strongly believe that universal early childhood education is an investment in our future that will pay dividends in years to come," said Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, to a Senate Education Committee that passed the bill Wednesday. "It is absolutely essential for our economic vitality and social mobility. California needs to step up our investment in the next generation."
Transitional kindergarten, also known as TK, is a publicly funded education program currently available to four-year-old children who turn five between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2 each year. It started after the Legislature passed a law in 2010 that bumped up the birthday cut-off date for students to enroll in kindergarten by three months to Sept. 1.
Dodd introduced Senate Bill 837 in January to allow all four-year-olds in California to enroll in transitional kindergarten by 2022. The bill would initially take effect in 2020 for students who turn five between Sept. 2, 2020 and Feb. 28, 2021 and gradually expand eligibility.
The senator said the bill would help close achievement gaps and provide more opportunities for early education during critical years for childhood development.
Dodd anticipates that his proposal would cost "billions" to implement, although the Senate Appropriations Committee has not conducted a financial analysis on the bill. He compared it to Senate Bill 562, a big idea to create a universal health care system in California last year that ultimately died because it lacked a plan to fund its exorbitant price tag.
"I’ve got some ideas on how we can get that funding," Dodd said. "The other things is, with this governor, even if we put funding in it, he is not going to do it. "
Dodd said he expects the bill may have better odds next year given the conversation about early childhood education in the 2018 gubernatorial race. He said he will likely have to scale back the proposal this year to expand eligibility to more four-year-olds, instead of all.
The bill is supported by the California PTA, but opposed by KinderCare, a for-profit daycare and early education provider, and the Professional Association for Childhood Education, a nonprofit association of private childcare providers. PACE argues that the bill moves too quickly to expand eligibility without addressing the impact it could have on existing early learning providers and that high student-teacher ratios in public education would make it difficult to properly teach four-year-olds.