Education

Should children attend full-day kindergarten? California law may soon require it.

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Gavin Newsom revealed his $209 billion California state budget proposal on Jan. 10, 2019.
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Gavin Newsom revealed his $209 billion California state budget proposal on Jan. 10, 2019.

California may soon require that all the state’s kindergarteners attend a full day of school, if a bill introduced last week becomes law.

Under the legislation, schools must transition from half-day programs to full-day programs by the 2021-22 school year.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, introduced Assembly Bill 197, which proposes that the minimum school day for full-day kindergarten be “the same number of minutes per schoolday that is offered to pupils in 1st grade.”

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

The legislation was introduced the same day that Gov. Gavin Newsom made his budget announcement, saying he wanted $750 million to ensure that full-day kindergarten is available in every school district.

The proposal is part of Newsom’s plan to spend nearly $2 billion on early learning programs, including $125 million on expanding preschool to all low-income 4-year-olds, and $500 million to expand state-subsidized child care programs.

“Most of the time we discovered that the kindergarten programs are better when they are in full-day kinder,” Weber said. “It gives the child an opportunity to adjust to the classroom, and to master the kinds of skills that are required – not only behavioral skills but academic as well.”

Ten schools in San Juan Unified School District offer full-day classes. The decision was implemented in the 2010-11 school year to incorporate social, emotional and academic components in different schools. Students were better prepared to take future International Baccalaureate preparatory classes, and music and art, said communications coordinator Raj Rai.

“I’m sure that it worked well for many working families as well, as it best accommodates their schedules,” Rai said. “It depends on what a family’s schedule looks like and if they are able to provide before and after school care.”

Not all Sacramento-area parents were looking forward to the possible changes.

“There’s a lot of pressure for kids to learn things and do homework,” said Mandy Brazell of West Sacramento. Her 1-year-old son will be enrolled kindergarten in 2021, when the bill is proposed to go into effect if it passes.

“Kids who are 5 and under are only little for so long,” she said. “It’s important for me to spend time with my child and build a bond. I would be hesitant sending him for a full day.”

Then-Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill in 2014, which proposed to make kindergarten mandatory in California. Currently, public education is mandatory only for ages 6 to 18.

In his veto message, Brown said, “I would prefer to let parents determine what is best for their children rather than mandate an entirely new grade level.”

Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.
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