A bill to make kindergarten mandatory for all students entering the first grade in California was passed by the Senate on Monday, sending the bill to Governor Gavin Newsom.
Senate Bill 70, authored by Senator Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), would require that children 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 be students who were enrolled at a public or private school kindergarten who were there for less than a year but deemed ready by school officials to move up. The state would also pay all mandated costs to school districts, which have been estimated to at least be in the hundreds of millions a year.
Rubio wrote SB 70 due to concerns that many children are not ready to go straight into first grade without a year in kindergarten first. She also noted achievement gaps between the students who did and didn’t go to kindergarten as a result, studies that found students in mandatory Kindergarten states tend to go to college more and get higher paying jobs, and increased benefits for many black, Hispanic, immigrant, and lower-income students.
“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.”
Supporters of SB 70, including many education groups and school districts, agreed.
“Research shows that kindergarten is an essential part of a student’s development, narrowing opportunity gaps and reducing chronic absenteeism,” said Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho. “Mandating a full year of kindergarten ensures students receive high-quality academic, social and developmentally-appropriate learning experiences.”
Opposition to SB 70
However, the bill has also been vigorously opposed by many, who not only note the heavy costs of the bill, but that mandatory kindergarten would actually hinder many students due to students maturing at different rates.
“It’s scary to think that a former educator would think that this is ok,” explained Martha Collins, an education policy expert in California, to the Globe on Tuesday. “Mandatory kindergarten would not be a ‘leg up’, but rather a holding pattern for students. We want to educate students and help them develop, not shunt them to a mandatory class that would do little to help them.”
While the bill was passed in both the Assembly and Senate by large majorities, 59-12 earlier this month and 33-5 on Monday respectively, SB 70 still faces it’s largest hurdle – the Governor. Previous bills attempting to make Kindergarten mandatory, most notably AB 1444 in 2014, were vetoed over monetary costs or because they felt that parents should decide what is best for their children.
“I would prefer to let parents determine what is best for their children rather than mandate an entirely new grade level,” said former Governor Jerry Brown in 2014.
For Governor Newsom, the decision will likely come down to cost. Newsom’s own Department of Finance opposes the bill due to it costing the state an estimated “low hundreds of millions annually”, something which may influence what he decides in the next few days.
“That’s a lot of money going to fund all these extra classes,” added Collins. “Even worse, we have a massive teacher shortage. Every state does. Adding a new mandatory class is only going to make that problem worse. So not only is the bill hurting students and taxpayers, but teachers are being screwed too. It’s not a great plan all around. Hopefully Newsom sees that.”
Governor Newsom is due to either veto or approve SB 70 in the coming days.
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