Lodi Unified School District will not move forward with plans to create a transitional kindergarten program after Gov. Jerry Brown's office released his proposed 2012-2013 budget. The proposal cuts funding for any students who will not turn five years old before Nov. 1, the kindergarten enrollment date for the 2012-2013 school year.
"This is detrimental to the district because it means a decrease in enrollment. It saves the state money, but it hits us," said Catherine Pennington, assistant superintendent of elementary education.
Normally, any child who would turn 5 years old before Dec. 2 of a given year can enter kindergarten at the beginning of that school year. But those students are often not emotionally or socially prepared for a structured kindergarten curriculum.
California lawmakers noticed the difference, too, and have introduced a new law to help bridge the gap: the Kindergarten Readiness Act. This changes the age needed to enroll in kindergarten.
California is among the few states that don't have a Sept. 2 enrollment cutoff, and they are trying to align with the rest of the nation, according to Pennington.
"As far as maturity and preparedness for school, a few months of additional time to prepare is huge," she said.
In original versions of the law, districts were required to create a transitional kindergarten program.
However, with state funding cut, districts are unsure whether the program can continue.
The curriculum would have followed kindergarten basics, but with more focus on social skills and how to get along in a classroom setting. It would have allowed younger students to have an additional year of kindergarten to catch up to older peers.
Pennington says it would have been more academically rigorous than preschool, but slightly less so than current kindergarten curriculum.
The plan was to provide two transitional kindergarten classes. One class would have been available for North Stockton students at Podesta Ranch Elementary School, while Lodi kids would have headed to Lawrence Elementary School. As the program grew, both schools would add another class and likely expand to a few more schools. Class size was limited to 20.
After spending one year at the satellite school, students would have returned to their local school to begin their elementary school careers.
One bright side is that the district had not yet ordered classroom materials or hired teachers for the positions, though a planning committee spent weeks nailing down details for the program.
Local teachers say kindergartens would have benefited from the program.
Barbara Moffett can guess the birthday of a child in her kindergarten class at Lakewood Elementary School by looking at their writing journals. There's a clear difference in skills between a child who turns five in late November and another whose birthday falls in March.
"With today's curriculum, kindergarten is now first grade," said Moffett, who has taught kindergarten for 32 years.
But Mary Jo Souza, who teaches kindergarten at Manlio Silva Elementary School, says an extra year might not be the answer. Starting a child in school a year later, instead of having them repeat similar lessons and curriculum, could keep them more engaged in the classroom.
But starting kindergarten a year later can be a strain on parents to provide daycare or preschool.
Whether a child attended preschool, is younger than his or her peers or has parents who push academic skills can all determine how well a student might do in kindergarten.
Untill the state budget is finalized, the future of the program is unclear.
But Ruth Davis, a member of the Lodi Unified board of trustees and a retired kindergarten teacher, hasn't given up. Davis has resolved to search through the district's budget and see if there's any money to be spared for a transitional kindergarten program.
"My head says no, but my heart says there's got to be something," she said. "There's got to be a chance for these kids."
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.