New transitional kindergarten program faces budget squeeze

Sonoma County school districts are wrestling with how to proceed this fall with the state's new transitional kindergarten program now that Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed cutting funds set aside for its implementation.

Under Brown's plan, the state would save about $224 million in 2012-13 by having fewer students in school after the kindergarten cutoff date is moved from Dec. 2 to Nov. 2.

The 2010 bill that authorized the change calls for additional changes in ensuing years: limiting enrollment to children to turn 5 by Oct. 2 in 2013-14 and by Sept. 1 in 2014-15. Theoretically, that would provide additional savings to state coffers.

However, the legislation also requires districts to offer children born in that three month window a year of transitional kindergarten followed by a year of traditional kindergarten.

That requirement, despite the uncertainty over funding, remains in place.

"The bottom line is, we don't have enough information to do anything different than what this law requires," said Gail Eagen, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at Santa Rosa City Schools.

"My greatest concern is the message that this gives parents we are trying to welcome into the system," she said. "I think it is horribly confusing for parents."

And Eagen questioned the proposed savings — something she said won't appear on state ledgers until the transitional kindergarten kids move through the system and get 14 years of schooling instead of 13.

Kindergarten registration for the fall begins Jan. 17 in Santa Rosa City schools, Sonoma County's largest school district,and school site officials will collect information on campus choices as well as birth dates.

The district will configure transitional kindergarten programs depending on how many students choose that option and at what campuses, Eagen said.

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