Dewan: Transitional kindergarten is expanding 
Santa Clara County children in the Head Start program. Photo courtesy of Santa Clara County Office of Education.

California has made a critical step forward in the expansion of early education. Transitional kindergarten (TK) has been available for children with fall birthdays since 2011. California is now expanding access to TK so that all California children can benefit.

With the 2022-23 school year ahead, all children who turn five between Sept. 2 and Feb. 2 are eligible to enroll in transitional kindergarten programs.

The age by which children are eligible for TK will expand over the next four years:

  • In the 2022–23 school year, children who turn five between Sept. 2 and Feb. 2
  • In the 2023–24 school year, children who turn five between Sept. 2 and April 2
  • In the 2024–25 school year, children who turn five between Sept. 2 and June 2
  • In the 2025–26 school year, and each school year thereafter, children who turn four by Sept. 1

Assembly Bill 130 allows public schools throughout the state to offer transitional kindergarten programs to all four year olds. The $2.7 billion universal transitional kindergarten program will be gradually phased in over the next five years, until it includes all of the state’s four year olds. Universally available TK means that by 2025–26, regardless of background, race, ZIP code, immigration status or income level, every child whose fourth birthday occurs by Sept. 1 will have access to TK at a public school as a quality learning experience the year before kindergarten—at no cost to the family.

TK is different than kindergarten or preschool. TK is a California school grade that serves as a bridge between preschool and kindergarten. Transitional kindergarten, like kindergarten enrollment, is not required. Parents will continue to have the choice to enroll in programs that meet their needs and in which they meet eligibility requirements, including Head Start and California State Preschool.

Research demonstrates that children who attend early learning programs develop important cognitive, social and emotional skills that enhance kindergarten readiness. As a result, they are more likely to be proficient readers by the end of third grade, more likely to attend college and more likely to have increased lifetime earnings. Children who regularly attend a high quality full day early learning program are 40% more likely to read at grade level in the third grade.

With the vision that every child is school-ready by kindergarten, the Santa Clara County Office of  Education is continuing to support enrollment efforts in all early care and learning programs, including child care, preschool, TK and kindergarten through Steps to Success. The central goal of Steps to Success is to increase awareness about the value of early learning, provide enrollment information and in turn increase enrollment and consistent attendance in programs within our county.

Families searching for programs can visit enrollsantaclara.org to find local child care and preschool programs, or to find school enrollment resources to learn how to enroll in preschool, TK and kindergarten in Santa Clara County schools.

San José Spotlight columnist Mary Ann Dewan is the superintendent of schools for Santa Clara County. She has more than 33 years of experience in the field of education. Her columns appear every third Monday of the month.

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