Transitional kindergarten is a go.
After being signed into law in 2010, the program designed to give "young fives" an extra year of kindergarten was dragged through months of budget wrangling only to emerge just as it went in: the law of the land to be implemented when school starts next month.
"It looks like we have gone full circle," said Jeff Bell, director of management consulting services for School Services of California, an education finance advocacy group in Sacramento.
But months of uncertainty have left school districts struggling to come up with a distinct curriculum with limited funds and parents increasingly frustrated by unanswered questions about what is best for their child.
"Almost every week for the past two months before the school year ended, I kept going in to say, 'Hey, have you heard anything new?' " said Santa Rosa resident Saul Castaneda, whose daughter Gabriela will turn 5 on Nov. 9.
Traditionally, California schools have opened kindergarten classrooms to students who turn 5 by Dec. 2. That will change this fall, when school districts begin implementing a three-year plan that gradually will push up the cutoff date to Sept. 1.
The changes are meant to end California's policy of allowing 4-year-olds to enroll in kindergarten and reduce the span of ages in classrooms that often would have a 4-year-old sitting next to a 6-year-old. The change puts California in line with the rest of the nation for kindergarten cutoff age.
But the law that changed the cutoff date also mandated that districts offer "transitional kindergarten" to those children whose birthdays fall between September and December and had historically been allowed to enroll in kindergarten.
That three-month cohort of kids must now be offered a distinct curriculum created to accommodate younger students who are not deemed developmentally ready for traditional kindergarten.
Help before kindergarten
Backers say it's the closest California will get to universal preschool and will offer some students learning time before tackling kindergarten, which has become more academically rigorous in the past decade.
Originally pitched as a money-saver by shrinking the number of kindergartners served statewide, teachers unions pushed back and eventually the pre-kindergarten program became the law of the land.
But others say the program puts an additional burden on budget-strapped school districts to come up with a two-year, distinct program even when only two or three kids meet the criteria.
The curriculum specifics are left largely to the discretion of each district -- meaning programs will vary widely up and down the state.
Some smaller school districts will place younger students in the same classrooms as older kindergartners, while many larger districts are creating specialized classrooms with teachers that solely focus on the younger students.
"I'm absolutely convinced (transitional kindergarten) is going to be a game changer, and California's youngest kids will be off to a strong start," Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said in a statement about the bill he authored in 2010.
Far more rigorous
Backers of the plan say kindergarten is far more rigorous than it was prior to the implementation of higher academic targets and some kids need an extra boost to achieve success later in their school careers.
Under the new law, students who qualify for transitional kindergarten will spend a year in that class then move onto traditional kindergarten the following year.