Governor vetoes full-day and mandatory kindergarten bills

Photo: Andrew Reed/EdSource

Kindergarteners in Robin Bryant’s class at West Contra Costa Unified’s Stege Elementary School learn how to add and subtract.

California won’t make kindergarten compulsory or extend the kindergarten school day, at least not anytime soon.

Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed two bills that would have required parents to enroll their 5-year-olds in preschool and school districts to do preschool longer than four hours.

Either objection MessagesNewsom said the bills would cost hundreds of millions of dollars in ongoing expenses that are not accounted for in the state budget.

As our state faces lower-than-expected revenue for the first few months of this fiscal year, it’s important to remain disciplined on spending, especially on current spending,” Newsom wrote. “We must prioritize existing commitments and priorities, including education, healthcare, public safety and safety net programs.”

Assembly Act 1973 would have obliged all primary schools to offer at least one all-day kindergarten class by 2030/31. All-day kindergarten is any program that lasts more than four hours without a break. Currently California only required Part-day kindergarten that lasts between three and four hours a day, with no breaks.

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Senate bill 70Presented by Senator Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), a former teacher, would have made enrollment in kindergarten compulsory for all 5-year-olds from the 2024/25 school year. Currently California, like most other statesdoes not require children to attend school up to first grade after they turn 6 years old.

“Any teacher who has been in the classroom as long as I have can detail the long-term, devastating impact on a child who misses kindergarten,” Rubio said in a statement. “I plan to reintroduce my mandatory kindergarten bill next year and fight for funding. Our children are too important. We can either pay the education costs now or pay the much higher societal costs later.”

Before the pandemic, the vast majority of 5-year-olds enrolled in kindergarten, although it is not mandatory. According to the California Kindergarten Association, only about 5% to 7% of students do not enroll in kindergarten.

However, kindergarten enrollment fell 13.2% from 2019-20 to 2020-21 during distance learning, according to the California Department of Education. Many parents decided not to register their children in kindergarten because distance learning is not suitable for young children.

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Reactions to the vetoes were mixed.

“We were disappointed with the vetoes because the pre-school regulation and the expansion of early childhood education opportunities would help resolve some of the fundamental injustices in our education system. It would also level the playing field by giving families equal access to the educational experiences children need to reach key educational milestones in literacy in 3rd grade,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, one statewide research and advocacy organization based in Oakland.

Jackie Thu-Huong Wong, CEO of First 5 California, a state commission for the support of children in the first five years of life, said the investments the governor and lawmakers have made in childcare, preschool and expanding transitional kindergarten “fit better with the overall K-12 education system.”

“While we believe the governor’s signing of SB 70 would have been a great addition to these historic investments, we understand the state’s fiscal realities,” Wong said.

Bruce Fuller, Professor of Education and Public Policy at UC Berkeley who focuses on early educationsaid Newsom’s vetoes are “fiscally prudent.”

“He also takes staunchly centrist positions, choosing not to tell parents how to raise their children. This is consistent with his impressive expansion of Pre-K while making enrollment voluntary for families,” Fuller said.

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The California School Boards Association did not support either bill and actively opposed the AB 1973 All-Day Kindergarten Act because they feared that many counties that currently offer both morning and afternoon kindergartens would not be able to if they were forced to offer all-day kindergartens to minister to so many children.

“This law would have had a disproportionate impact on small and rural school districts, which are having a harder time finding staff to teach these classes and making the necessary changes to the facilities to accommodate them,” spokesman Troy Flint said.

Over 80 percent of school districts already offer all-day kindergartens. Those that don’t are mostly in higher-income areas and are citing lack of space and staff as obstacles to the provision of all-day programmes.

Similar bills have previously been rejected. A bill to provide a daycare center in each district was defeated by Governor Newsom in 2019. In 2014, a mandatory kindergarten bill was opposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who said parents should decide if kindergarten is best for their children.

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