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San Diego Lawmakers Want More Of California’s Youngest Students In Class

Aired 1/27/14 on KPBS News.

Two San Diego state legislators are pushing bills to expand education for California’s youngest students.

— Across the country, political leaders are debating proposals to make preschool available to more children, and two San Diego state legislators are pushing bills to expand education for California’s youngest students.

Mireya Melendez-Lousteau reviews words starting with the letter "B" with her transitional kindergarten class at Chula Vista Hills Elementary School.
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Above: Mireya Melendez-Lousteau reviews words starting with the letter "B" with her transitional kindergarten class at Chula Vista Hills Elementary School.

One of the first pieces of legislation introduced in the California Assembly this year was Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s bill to make kindergarten mandatory. She said one motivation for the bill is that not all parents are getting the message that kindergarten is vital.

“We want to make sure that people understand that kindergarten is really important, that attendance is important, to empower the schools to go after kids that don’t go to kindergarten," she said. "We still have between 16,000 and 25,000 kids who actually don’t go to kindergarten.”

Under Weber’s bill, California would join 15 states and Washington, D.C. in making kindergarten attendance mandatory, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

California state Sen. Marty Block wants the state to go even further. He is co-author of another bill that would open transitional kindergarten to all 4-year-olds in California. Currently, the program is open only to children who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2.

“Really the most important key is building a strong foundation," Block said. "Because no matter how well you want to do in high school, and ultimately in college, if you don’t have the basic skills you need as a kindergartener, as a pre-kindergartener, you’ll be behind the eight-ball. It’ll be hard for you to succeed.”

After a five-year phase-in, the expanded program for 4-year-olds would cost California about $1 billion a year.

But earlier this month Gov. Jerry Brown called for prudence in using the state's unexpectedly higher revenues, and opposed expanding programs in his budget proposal for next year.

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