In 2016, the Education Commission of the States released “K-3 Policymakers’ Guide to Action: Making the early years count” discussing the importance of improving quality in the early elementary grades. The report highlighted twenty five policy steps in six key areas including “quality full-day kindergarten and mandatory attendance-age requirements”. The suggested policy steps in this area included (i) funding kindergarten through the school funding formula and assigning kindergarten students enrolled in full day kindergarten a weight equal to a first-grade student, (ii) requiring districts to offer full-day kindergarten, (iii) setting full-day kindergarten hours to equal the length of 1st grade hours, and (iv) requiring compulsory kindergarten attendance. In contrast to these best practices, kindergarten in California is voluntary (compulsory attendance is required once children turn six years of age), a substantial minority of districts offer part day programs, and full-day kindergarten has a significantly shorter school day than other early elementary grades. A quick search of the Leginfo database, which includes the language of every bill introduced in the state Assembly or Senate, reveals that full-day kindergarten wasn’t addressed by the California legislature in the 2015-16 or 2017-18 sessions. In contrast to the significant attention that has been paid to the state’s preschool system by advocates and legislators, kindergarten remained relatively neglected.
However, that may be changing. Governor Newsom’s January budget proposal included $750 million dollars, on top of last year’s $100 million, in one-time non-Proposition 98 General Fund dollars to construct new or retrofit existing facilities for full-day kindergarten programs at the 22% of school districts in the state (representing more than 1,600 school sites) that do not offer full-day programs. The explanatory text in the budget summary (available here) noted that districts “cited a lack of facilities as the main impediment to offering full-day kindergarten.” On the same day as the Governor unveiled his budget proposal, Assemblymember Dr. Shirley Weber (D – San Diego) introduced Assembly Bill 197. This bill would require school districts to offer full‑day kindergarten with a minimum school day that is the same as 1st grade, beginning in the 2021-22 school year. Currently, the definition of full-day kindergarten that applies to most districts is a minimum day of 180 minutes, inclusive of recess. Part-day programs operate a minimum of 150 minutes. AB 197 would increase the minimum kindergarten day to 230 minutes, the same as grades 1-3. Because transitional kindergarten (TK) operates on the same school day as regular kindergarten, this would have the effect of increasing the school for TK as well. While both proposals have a long way to go before becoming law, this combination could result in California joining the 13 other states, plus the District of Columbia, that require districts to offer full-day kindergarten.