CA Mandatory Kindergarten Bill: Gov. Gavin Newsom Rejects Mandatory Kindergarten Law

Sacramento — Beyond academics in kindergarten, students learn daily routines: how to take care of classroom supplies and how to show kindness to their peers, says Carla Randazzo, a kindergarten teacher at Golden Empire Elementary School.

It has become more difficult for students who attend school online during the pandemic to develop those skills, and occasionally, a student entering first grade at Golden Empire doesn’t attend kindergarten, Randazzo said. About two-thirds of students in Sacramento schools are English learners.

“Those kids have to climb up,” he said. “They need a lot of support to succeed.”

Randazzo always thought it was “strange” that kindergarten was not mandatory in California. For now, California doesn’t join the other 20 states with mandatory kindergarten.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, vetoed legislation Sunday night that would have required children to attend kindergarten — through home schooling, public or private school — before entering first grade at a public school.

As with other recent legislative vetoes, Newsom cited the costs associated with providing mandatory kindergarten, which he said is $268 million annually, not accounted for in the California budget.

Newsom has supported similar legislation in the past. Last year, he signed a package of education bills, including transitioning the state to universal pre-K starting in the 2025-26 school year. But the state’s finance department opposed the mandatory kindergarten bill, saying it would strain finances by enrolling 20,000 new public school students.

Proponents of mandatory kindergarten say it can help close the educational opportunity gap for low-income students and students of color, as well as help children develop important social skills before 1st grade. The bill was introduced after K-12 attendance rates dropped during the pandemic and some students struggled with online learning.

Kindergarten enrollment in California fell nearly 12% in the 2020-21 school year from the previous year, according to the state Department of Education. Nationwide, public school enrollment dropped 3 percent in 2020-21 compared to the previous school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Samantha Fee of Citrus Heights said her 7-year-old son can solve practically any math equation when he attends kindergarten online in the 2020-21 school year. But by the end of the school year, he still couldn’t read and didn’t know all his letters.

She said the family made the difficult decision to put her son, who attends Golden Empire, back in kindergarten to prepare for first grade.

“They learn a lot in that first year — how to sit at their desks, how to raise their hand and everything they’re expected to know in first grade,” Fee said. “Without kindergarten, they don’t have that.”

Research by the Economic Policy Institute shows that inequalities in educational opportunity begin as early as kindergarten. According to a 2015 study by the American Public Health Association, children who develop their social and emotional skills by the time they reach kindergarten age are more likely to attend college.

“The pandemic has led to a startling drop in K-12 enrollment, raising concerns about a widening opportunity gap,” said Jessica Lal, president and CEO of the Midtown Association of Los Angeles.

As legislation to mandate pre-kindergarten overwhelmingly passed both houses of the Legislature, San Diego County Sen. Brian Jones opposed it, saying the government should focus on education reform instead.

Newsom vetoed separate legislation that would have required every school in kindergarten to offer at least one full day of in-class choice, saying it would “create hundreds of millions of dollars in one-time and ongoing costs.” The 2022-23 budget included $4 billion in funding for expanded learning opportunities.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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