The story at a glance
- The California Senate has passed a bill that would make kindergarten compulsory for all children in the state.
- Currently, kindergarten is voluntary, but research has shown that children who enroll have higher gains in reading and math.
- An estimated 5-7% of students do not enroll in kindergarten in California in an average year and this number has increased significantly during the pandemic.
California lawmakers are pushing to make kindergarten mandatory in the state as they see declining school enrollment and aim to ensure that all children receive essential instruction in their early years of learning.
Introduced by State Senator Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), Senate Bill 70 would require all California students to complete a year of kindergarten before they can enter first grade — currently only 19 states require the maternal.
California would become the 20e State, with Rubio saying, “As a teacher in a public school for 17 years, I have witnessed the deteriorating impact on young students who miss out on fundamental early childhood education.”
Leaving kindergarten voluntarily can leave many students unprepared for full-time elementary school. The National Education Association (NEA) says children who attend kindergarten full-time have higher gains in reading and math and it also provides social and emotional benefits to children.
However, COVID-19 has severely disrupted schooling across the country, with parents refusing to send their children to school to mitigate their risk of illness and avoid the difficult transition to virtual learning. Enrollment fell nearly 2% in California in the 2021-2022 school year, with a decrease of more than 110,000 students.
Since the 2014-2015 school year, California has seen a steady decline in public school enrollment.
Currently, children must be 5 years old to be eligible for kindergarten, with some places offering transition programs for children as young as four years old.
However, in California, an estimated 5-7% of college students do not enroll in kindergarten in an average year and this number has increased significantly during the pandemic.
According to the NEA, kindergarten students who miss 10% or more school days have lower academic performance by the time they reach first grade.
SB 70 also points out that children born in states with mandatory kindergarten are more likely to go to college, earn higher wages, and are less likely to experience poverty as adults. The advantage is even greater for children who are Hispanic, black, English-learning, and from immigrant households and low-income families.
The California House passed SB 70 on Aug. 18 and less than two weeks later, on Aug. 29, it also passed the Senate, now heading to the office of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). If enacted, it would require every child in California to enroll in kindergarten starting in the 2024-2025 school year, with parents able to choose public or private options for their children.
Newsom previously signed legislation which will provide free pre-kindergarten to all four-year-olds in the state starting this 2022-2023 school year, but it’s unclear if he’ll sign SB 70.
The Ministry of State Finance oppose the billwith a legislative analysis putting the cost in the low hundreds of millions annually.