(Photo by Ashley Hopkinson/EdSource)

Funding proposed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom to expand full-day kindergarten would not likely benefit many low-income communities, where the greatest need is more programs for 3- and 4-year-olds, according to a new analysis.

Among Newsom’s sweeping budget proposals for early childhood is a one-time investment of $750 million for school districts to expand full-day kindergarten programs by building or renovating classroom space.

“Attendance in kindergarten is beneficial to a child’s long-term academic attainment,” reads Newsom’s proposal. “Unfortunately, many California children — including too many low-income kids and English language learners — do not enroll in kindergarten.”

However, an analysis by JoonHo Lee and Bruce Fuller of UC Berkeley’s Early Childhood Think Tank shows that most schools in low-income communities already offer full-day kindergarten programs and the schools that only offer part-day kindergarten programs are primarily located in more affluent communities. Specifically, they found that 82 percent of schools serving mostly low-income students already offer full-day kindergarten, while 63 percent of schools serving mostly higher-income students do. The researchers created a map to show where full-day kindergarten is available.

“If the Legislature’s and the governor’s priority is to close disparities in early learning, putting money into full-day kindergarten for affluent communities doesn’t accomplish what they’re trying to do,” Fuller said.

The researchers say the greatest need in low-income communities is for programs serving children under 5 years old, such as preschool and transitional kindergarten, or TK, offered by some public school districts for 4-year-olds who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2. The UC Berkeley researchers found that a third of low-income schools do not offer full-day transitional kindergarten and a sixth do not offer TK at all.

Newsom proposed a much smaller amount, $245 million, for building or renovating preschool and child care buildings for children under 5 years old.

“Targeting the governor’s $750 million on transitional kindergarten for disadvantaged 4-year-olds would better advance his equity agenda and help move toward the 10,000 new slots he’s promised for preschool-age children,” Fuller said.

Newsom’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

His budget proposals for early childhood also included funding for additional training for preschool teachers, expanding preschool space for all low-income 4-year-olds over three years, in addition to home visits and screenings for infants and toddlers to catch developmental delays early.

Part-day kindergarten programs are required to give three hours of instruction a day, not including lunch and recess, while full-day programs are generally the same length as 1st grade, meaning children attend school from about 8:30 a.m. to about 2 or 3 p.m.

The researchers say it is not clear why schools in lower-income communities are more likely to offer full-day kindergarten. They say it may be because in lower-income districts, there is more demand for full-day kindergarten because fewer parents can afford to stay home with their children or pay for child care, or because some districts are using funds available to low-income schools, such as Title I funds, to provide full-day kindergarten.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office released an analysis of Newsom’s budget proposal in March that, among other aspects, looked at school districts that only offer part-day kindergarten programs. It found that “although some districts described limited classroom space as an important consideration, districts cited other reasons for running part‑day programs, including teacher and parent preferences.”

The LAO also found that most school districts that have applied for the existing state funding approved in last year’s budget to expand full-day kindergarten programs already offer full-day kindergarten. School districts are eligible for the funds if they do not have enough classroom space to provide full-day kindergarten, or if their space does not meet regulations for kindergarten.

The LAO recommended that the full-day kindergarten grant program not be expanded at this time, which would free up the $750 million proposed by the governor for other budget priorities.

The analysis comes at a time when the Legislature is weighing several different options for funding construction of more early education classrooms and buildings and expanding preschool, transitional kindergarten and kindergarten. For facilities, AB 452 would change the Department of Education’s revolving loan fund to a grant program to support building or renovating child care centers. AB 124 would put a bond measure to expand child care facilities on the 2020 ballot.

Other bills focus on expanding transitional kindergarten. Currently, school districts can enroll 4-year-olds who will turn 5 after Dec. 2 and before the end of the school year, but they cannot receive state funding from average daily attendance of those 4-year-olds until they turn 5. SB 443 would allow school districts to receive funding for 4-year-olds who turn 5 after Dec. 2.

AB 197, introduced the same day Newsom announced his budget proposal, would require all school districts to provide full-day kindergarten.

“All California public school kindergarten pupils deserve the opportunity to maximize their growth, development and success at this critical time in their developmental process,” reads the bill, introduced by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego. “Full-day kindergarten provides this opportunity through a longer instructional day that has proven to be successful where it has been implemented.”

Mary Ann Dewan, Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools, said that despite the study’s findings, she supports the governor’s proposal to fund full-day kindergarten.

“Until we are in a place where we have universal access, we should support the governor’s proposal,” Dewan said. “I think full day kindergarten is a really important component of a quality K-12 educational system.”

Dewan said it’s important to look at how schools are funding their full-day kindergarten programs, because if schools are using supplemental funds such as those from the Local Control Funding Formula or Title I, which the federal government provides to schools with large numbers of low-income students, their full-day kindergarten programs may be at risk if other budget priorities arise.

This post has been corrected. A previous version said the bill AB 123 would also increase funding for transitional kindergarten and would require all school districts to offer the program. That language has been struck from the bill.

Zaidee Stavely

EdSource