A bill to make kindergarten mandatory for all students entering the first grade in California was vetoed by Governor Gavin Newsom Sunday night, one of dozens of bills either signed into law or rejected in his newest legislative update.
Senate Bill 70, authored by Senator Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), would have required children to complete one year of kindergarten before entering the first grade beginning in the 2024-2025 school year. The only exception, according to SB 70, would have been students who were enrolled at a public or private school kindergarten who were also there for less than a year but deemed ready by school officials to move up. The state would have also payed all mandated costs to school districts, which had been estimated to at least be in the hundreds of millions a year.
Since SB 70’s inception in December of 2020 as a bill, it has been fought over fiercely. Proponents noted that the bill would help students prepare for grade school and not fall behind on skills needed for the first grade, such as reading, writing, and other basics. Senator Rubio and education experts also pointed to achievement gaps between students who did and didn’t go to kindergarten, with many black, Latino, immigrant, and lower-income students facing worse college-going and higher-income levels as a result.
“As a public school teacher for 17 years, I have witnessed the detrimental impact on young students who miss out on fundamental early education,” said Senator Rubio earlier this year. “The voluntary participation for kindergarten leaves students unprepared for the educational environment they will encounter in elementary school. I thank the sponsor of this bill and my legislative colleagues for their support on a bill that will change lives.
“Kindergarten builds the foundation for future learning. I know which students missed out on early education within the first five minutes of being in a classroom — students playing with pencils/highlighters, using them as cars; holding the book upside down; running to the play area, rather than sitting down on the carpet when they come into the classroom. That is why it is so important for our young students to get a head start, to have that building block, so they don’t have to play a harder game of catch-up when they begin the first grade.”
$268 million in yearly added budgetary costs
However, opponents of SB 70, which included most GOP state legislators, education policy experts, and even the California Department of Finance stood against the bill. While it was agreed that high education standards are important, questions of whether mandatory classes would actually help students, as well as the high costs of such a program, caused many to balk at SB 70. Experts also said that SB 70 would specifically have the state hire another 20,000 students into the public school system mid-decade, putting a strain on schools, teacher hirings, and would ultimately add $268 million to the budget annually.
“Right now a recession is looking more and more likely, and California’s state income is cresting downwards,” explained Ronald Chavez, an LA-based education policy financial consultant, to the Globe on Monday. “While there are arguments to be made both for and against mandatory kindergarten, that question needs to wait as California prepares, like the rest of the nation, for some harder financial years ahead. If this bill was passed, the state would be stuck with those higher costs going into some lean years and it would have gotten ugly on where that money would come from.”
“In the end, we just can’t spend money we won’t likely have.”
The bill was passed in both the Assembly and Senate by large majorities, 59-12 and 33-5 last month respectively, with mostly Republicans voting against the bills or abstaining from voting. However, the larger question was what Governor Newsom would do. While Democrats were largely supportive of SB 70, and Newsom himself promoting better state education standards since coming into office, he also had many state offices and advisors telling him not to sign the bill due to the high costs. On Sunday, the latter prevailed, with Newsom vetoing SB 70.
“While the author’s intent is laudable, SB 70 is estimated to have Prop. 98 General Fund cost impacts of up to $268 million ongoing, which is not currently accounted for in the state’s fiscal plan,” wrote Newsom in his veto letter. “With our state facing lower-than-expected revenues over the first few months of this fiscal year, it is important to remain disciplined when it comes to spending, particularly spending that is ongoing. We must prioritize existing obligations and priorities, including education, health care, public safety and safety-net programs. The Legislature sent measures with potential costs of well over $20 billion in one-time spending commitments and more than $10 billion in ongoing commitments not accounted for in the state budget. Bills with significant fiscal impact, such as this measure, should be considered and accounted for as part of the annual budget process. For these reasons, I cannot sign this bill.”
Newsom is expected to continue signing and vetoing bills throughout the week.
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