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California legislators are considering a bill that would make kindergarten mandatory for children.
Senate Bill 767—which would require children to have completed one year of kindergarten before being admitted into first grade, beginning with the 2024–25 school year—is set for a May 18 hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The bill previously passed the state Senate Education Committee April 26 on a 6–1 vote.
Currently, children in California are only required to attend school once they turn 6. Until then, parents can choose whether to enroll their children in preschool or kindergarten.
Senator Susan Rubio (D-Balwin Park), who introduced the bill in February, said the policy aimed to close the state’s achievement gap, because children who skip kindergarten may have difficulty catching up to their peers once they begin first grade.
“As a public school teacher for 17 years, I have witnessed the detrimental impact on young students who continue to suffer the consequences of not receiving the fundamentals of an early education,” Rubio said in a March statement. “The disparities for students are not only physically visible as it pertains to a student’s confidence and participation in class, but also academically measurable.”
Rubio also said the bill would help support teachers.
“[O]ur teachers are struggling in the classroom and the best way we can support them is by having students prepared in classrooms as they move up each academic grade level,” she said.
According to the California Department of Education 95 percent of eligible students attended kindergarten in 2019.
However, an April study by the state Education Department reported the state’s kindergarten enrollment has fallen by more than 28,000 children since the 2019–20 school year.
An analysis of the bill estimates that, if passed, between 14,000 and 30,000 toddlers will need to enroll, costing the state’s education fund “potentially in the low hundreds of millions of dollars.”
A similar bill by Rubio passed in the Legislature last year, but it was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Gavin Newsom due to its high costs, which were not accounted for in the state’s education budget.
The state’s 2021–22 budget included $2.7 billion to offer transitional kindergarten classes to all four-year-olds by the 2025–26 school year.
However, the governor’s 2023–24 proposed budget suggests cutting the program’s funding from $609 million to $337 million due to this year’s enrollment being less than expected.
A March report by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates average daily attendance this year for transitional kindergarten was about 91,000—28,000 lower than previous projections.
Kindergarten is currently mandatory in 19 states, according to education policy research nonprofit Education Commission of the States—including Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, and New Mexico.