Starting kindergarten later may save Calif. money

November 9, 2011 12:33:35 AM PST
California's youngest students may soon start kindergarten later, and even stay there longer, as a way to save the state some money.

Karate-loving Nathaniel Green is doing well in kindergarten. His dad credits transitional kindergarten for his success.

"I'm learning easy words to read, like 'the', 'here' and 'down.' Stuff like that," said Nathaniel.

"They did a lot of arts and crafts that enabled him to work on making shapes that were pre-cursors to letters. I think that, in particular, was a great aspect of the curriculum," said Garry Green, Nathaniel's father.

A new law will soon require kids to be 5 years old when entering kindergarten. The cutoff birthday will be September instead of December. The idea is to make sure 4-year-olds are not in kindergarten.

"California was one of the few state where kids were still 4 years old going into kindergarten. And often they didn't have the maturity and the skills they needed to really succeed," said Deborah Kong from Preschool California.

While they wait, 4-year-olds can attend transitional kindergarten, known as TK. It'll be part of California's public school system next fall, the first grade added since 1891. Some schools have already tried it.

"TK has been proven to be valuable to the school districts in lowering retention and special ed placement and we predict dropout rates will go down," said Cathy Wietstock from the Orange County Department of Education.

But some school districts are concerned about the costs. While the state gives them money for each child that attends, whether it's TK or regular kindergarten, participation is voluntary and each school may not have enough students.

"Getting several students, perhaps three from one location, four from another, maybe five from another, and try to serve them in one location could be a real challenge for some areas throughout the state," said Jeff Bell from School Services of California.

All Nathaniel knows he's performing much better in school because of TK.

When asked how he's doing in school now, Nathaniel said, "Very good."

Parents who believe their child is ready for kindergarten, but he or she was born after the new Sept. 1st cutoff date can ask their school district for early admissions.

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