California is inching closer to requiring that all children go to kindergarten, a condition that seems especially necessary after the COVID-19 pandemic when many of the youngest students in the state skipped their first year of schooling.
A bill approved by the state Senate late Monday is on its way to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk. If he signs it, children will be required to finish one year of kindergarten before enrolling in first grade—starting in the 2024-25 school year.
California, like many states, does not currently make kindergarten mandatory as part of its education mandate. California children are eligible for kindergarten once they are 5 years old, but are not required by law to attend school until they are 6 years old.
But if SB70, introduced by Sen. Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), is signed by Newsom, California would join 19 states where kindergarten is a requirement and not a complement to early education. The bill also states that students can choose between public or private kindergarten.
Rubio, a former public school teacher, said on the Senate floor Monday that students who haven’t been to kindergarten often find themselves behind in basic skills.
“This ensures that children receive critical instruction in their earliest years of learning and are properly prepared,” she said. “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.”
Kindergarten is actually well-attended in California—95 percent of eligible students were enrolled (before COVID, that is), according to the California Department of Education. Enrollment in kindergarten declined by 61,000 students in 2020-21, according to state data.
But the bill’s backers say keeping the grade optional doesn’t convince parents about how beneficial the grade it is—pointing out research that shows kindergarten aids in building “social and academic skills.”
Kindergarten also has its problems, which backers of the bill hope could be alleviated if the bill were to become law. For instance, low-income families are less likely to enroll their kids in kindergarten and absentee rates tend to be higher as parents don’t take it as seriously as other grades.
“Making it compulsory allows the district to reach out, to call, to do home visits, to counsel parents,” Alison Yoshimoto Towery, L.A. Unified’s chief academic officer told the Los Angeles Times.
This isn’t California’s first attempt to require kindergarten— former Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill in 2014.
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