The state Senate approved a measure on Monday night, and if it’s signed by Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, it would mean that children will be required to attend kindergarten for a year before starting first grade, starting with the school year for 2024-2025, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Children in the Golden State are currently eligible to enrol in Kindergarten at the age of five but aren’t required to start school until the age of six.
The new law, SB 70, put forward by Democratic state Senator Susan Rubio, a former teacher, would mean that California would enter the group of 19 other states where kindergarten is mandatory.
The bill clarifies that other types of early education don’t qualify, but both public and private kindergarten attendance will count.
“This ensures that children receive critical instruction in their earliest years of learning and are properly prepared,” Ms Rubio said on the floor of the state senate on Monday. “For students who have not been enrolled in kindergarten, oftentimes teachers and parents spend way too much time trying to teach foundational skills and their peers are already ahead and have mastered those skills.”
Figures from the state’s Department of Education show that 95 per cent of eligible students were enrolled in kindergarten before the pandemic struck, but those pushing the bill argue that keeping it optional is misleading when it comes to the benefits of kindergarten.
Advocates note studies showing the social and academic skills that children form during the grade.
The Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, Alberto Carvalho, said that “mandating a full year of kindergarten ensures students receive high-quality academic, social and developmentally appropriate learning experiences,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
State data show that kindergarten enrollment dropped by 61,000 for the 2020-2021 school year as the pandemic took hold of the country.
Alison Yoshimoto-Towery, the chief academic officer of the Los Angeles Unified school district, which includes more than 550,000 students, spoke to lawmakers at a hearing in June of the Assembly Education Committee. She noted that families with lower incomes are more likely to opt out of sending their kids to kindergarten and that absentee rates are higher because it’s not taken seriously.
“Making it compulsory allows the district to reach out, to call, to do home visits, to counsel parents,” she said. “It closes that opportunity gap earlier.”
The California Homeschool Network opposes the proposed law.
“This new legislation would require them to start in kindergarten regardless of their preparation and social skills — in other words, mandating 13 years of formal education instead of 12,” the group said in a statement. “Better education policy would consider both mastery and maturity, not chronological age.”
Democratic Assemblymember Kevin McCarty has put forward a separate bill, AB 1973, which would mandate that all school districts provide full-day kindergarten services as some districts currently only offer three-hour programmes.
The state’s Department of Finance is against the proposed law because of the increase in cost.
In 2014, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill.
“Most children already attend kindergarten, and those that don’t may be enrolled in other educational or developmental programs that are deemed more appropriate for them by their families,” he said at the time. “I would prefer to let parents determine what is best for their children, rather than mandate an entirely new grade level.”
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