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Universal transitional kindergarten could bring relief to parents, but threatens child care providers

Children play at Magic Hours Preschool in Mira Mesa in this undated photo.
Courtesy of Ryan and Amy Jellison
Children play at Magic Hours Preschool in Mira Mesa in this undated photo.

California parents will soon have the option of enrolling their 4-year-olds in universal transitional kindergarten at their local public school.

The free public education is part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to expand the state’s transitional kindergarten, or TK, program by 2025.

RELATED: San Diego Unified Rolls Out New Transitional Kindergarten Program Ahead Of The State

But Pamela Casas, a Carlsbad mom, is unsure of what she would do with her 4-year-old son.

“I worry that there’s not enough one-on-one attention, so in that aspect I’d consider staying where I am at now,” she said. “I think it’ll be a good thing for some families because at least it will decrease the cost, but even though there's a cost benefit analysis, is it still the right choice?”

Some parents told KPBS their cost for childcare is more than their mortgage. Casas doesn't pay that much — she currently takes her son to an in-home daycare that charges her about $700 a month.

But she said she would continue paying if she doesn’t like what is being offered at the public program.

“Is it going to be equitable across all districts?” Casas said. “Because we already know the districts, the way they are in California, there's a lot of disparities.”

Not all parents have the luxury of choice.

While TK is free, it will have a shorter schedule, which may not work for some families, said Arnulfo Manriquez, the CEO of MAAC, an organization that helps low income families with resources including full day childcare.

“The majority of our population don't have the structure of work. They are essential workers and they have to be onsite for the most part,” he said. ”So that's something that was very concerning for us. Needless to say, there’s still a huge need for it. ”

Manriquez said if the program is run well, it will help prepare kids for the classroom environment in kindergarten.

But there may be unintended consequences to childcare providers.

“In mid August I lost about a third of my enrollment very unexpectedly, because the local elementary schools in our community had suddenly opened up a late 3-, early 4-year-old program,” said Holly Weber, the owner of Magic Hours Preschool in Mira Mesa.

Universal transitional kindergarten could bring relief to parents, but threatens child care providers

Speaker 1: (00:00)

Soon California public schools will offer free transitional kindergarten for all four year olds. It will be a big help to working parents, but K PBS reporter Tanya thorn tells us it may have unintended consequences for childcare providers.

Speaker 2: (00:16)

Pamela causes four year old goes to an in-home daycare. It costs her about $700 a month, but by 2025 kids' age could go to free transitional kindergarten at their public schools. But Casa doesn't know what she will do. I

Speaker 3: (00:33)

Worry that there's not enough, um, one-on-one attention. So in that aspect, I consider staying, um, where I am at now

Speaker 2: (00:42)

At some parents told KPBS the cost of their childcare exceeds their mortgage payment CASAA is payment. Isn't that high, but she says she would continue paying out of pocket. That's if she doesn't like what is being offered at the public school

Speaker 3: (00:56)

And is it gonna be equitable across all districts? Because we already know the, the districts the way they are in California. Like there there's a lot of disparities even in that,

Speaker 2: (01:06)

But not all parents have the luxury of choice.

Speaker 3: (01:10)

I think it, it will be a good thing for some families because at least it'll decrease the cost. But even though there's a cost benefit analysis, is, is it still the right choice?

Speaker 2: (01:25)

Mac is a countywide organization that helps low income families with resources like full day childcare CEO at man says while universal TK is free, it will have a shorter schedule which may not work for some families.

Speaker 4: (01:40)

The majority of our population don't have the structure are of work. Uh, they are essential workers and they have to be on site for the most part. Uh, so that would, that that's something that was very concerning for us. Needless to say, there's a huge need for it,

Speaker 2: (01:54)

But he says, if it's run well, it will help prepare kids for the classroom environment in kindergarten. Still there may be unintended consequences to try old care providers

Speaker 5: (02:04)

In mid August. I lost about a third of my enrollment, very unexpectedly because the local elementary schools in our community had suddenly opened up a late threes, early four year old

Speaker 2: (02:15)

Program. Holly Weber, the owner of magic hours, preschool lost some kids to a new TK program in Mira Mesa. Now she has had to a apply for a license to care for younger children to make up the loss, but changes to her business. Aren't her biggest concern. There

Speaker 5: (02:31)

Were children that still had frequent accidents throughout the day, uh, that that couldn't hardly express themselves to communicate and articulate their needs. Those are very, very critical components in a child's. We could talk about how this is gonna affect businesses all day long, but what we need to really, really focus on is the developmental concerns and the generation of children that will stem

Speaker 2: (02:57)

From this Weber fears that school districts will be burdened with a new set of responsibilities.

Speaker 5: (03:02)

You know, there's a reason why childcare centers have staff with very specialized education under for children, uh, birth through five years, as well as elementary staff have specialized credentials for teaching above five years of age and how it's proposed to, to fix those models. I, I don't know already

Speaker 2: (03:24)

Kids born between September and December get free TK. One teacher for that age group says for the program to work schools need the proper resources. She asks that K PS not use her name to protect her job.

Speaker 6: (03:38)

I am concerned about how the district is going to implement this and whether or not they have the staffing to provide the adequate support for all the students that will be coming in, um, with the added extra students for all the four year olds. Um, they would definitely need to get a lot more staff that have both the teaching credential and the early childhood education units

Speaker 2: (04:03)

That despite school districts across the region facing massive staffing shortages, public schools have told the 2025 school year to figure it out.

Speaker 1: (04:13)

Joining me as KPBS, north county reporter Tanya thorn, Tony. Welcome.

Speaker 7: (04:18)

Thank you, Maureen.

Speaker 1: (04:20)

Now, many parents and educators have been pushing for programs like this for years. So before we start discussing the problems that you brought up, why has transitional kindergarten been such a popular idea?

Speaker 7: (04:33)

You know, Maureen, it's due to the times we're living in, right? I mean, especially here in California, the cost of living is expensive. Childcare is expensive. So a free TK program for younger children is in demand primarily for childcare, you know, but also for preparation TK ultimately prepares children to enter the public school system with an idea of what to expect the classroom environment, basic skills, and just that socialization with other

Speaker 1: (05:02)

Do many school districts in San Diego already offer some form of transitional kindergarten.

Speaker 7: (05:08)

You know, most schools in San Diego do offer some sort of TK, but it is only for children who turn five between September 2nd and December 2nd. So many parents are left with no TK spot for their child in a public school and have to resort to looking for a private childcare. I mean, if, you know, if your child turned five, October 31st or September 1st, you don't make that, that cutoff. In some cases, some families qualify for government programs that assist with placement in some private preschools, but this is all income based. So there are certain bracket it's where if a family earns, let's say a thousand dollars over that income limit, they don't qualify for the program and need to find something within their means. San Diego unified rolled out a pilot TK program this year, and that program only had a thousand spots and 2,500 families applied. So, I mean, that really paints a picture of the demand in one of our local districts here.

Speaker 1: (06:04)

A and you said that some parents are paying more than their mortgage for childcare as it stands now, is there an average cost that families are paying?

Speaker 7: (06:13)

Isn't that crazy? I mean, I, I don't think there's an, because it really varies on the type of childcare a family has, but I did hear from various families that because of their childcare exceeds their mortgage. And although I believe it, it's, it's still a hard pill to swallow, right? And so the parent in my story takes hers son to an in-home daycare with a handful of children. I think it was a group of maybe five to 10 and kids, and she's only going part-time. So she does three half days out of the week and she's paying $700 a month. And now let's say she wanted to take her son full-time her price would double. And so, you know, another option or many families like myself rely on grandparents or nearby families to help, but not everyone has that. So it really looks, you know, very different across the board, depending on what type of care a family has access to.

Speaker 1: (07:04)

Now, the parent you spoke with in your report has concerns about the one to one attention that might be lacking in public school, transitional kindergarten, but kids almost as young go to kindergarten and public schools. And for the most part, they get plenty of attention. So what's the concern,

Speaker 7: (07:22)

You know, like I said, the parent I interviewed in the story takes her sent to an in-home daycare where it's, it's a smaller group of children. So ratios are a bit concern for her. And for many parents that are already used to a center like this. So her son has gotten used to that. And she's gotten to the fact that let's say maybe it's a ratio of five children per adult. And that's just something that we're not gonna see in the universal TK program. Schools are already facing staffing shortages. So how will that demand be met? Parents are concerned about how the ratios will, will work. Are we talking about 15 to 20 younger children per adults? And also we need to think about, you know, younger children have different needs. Some children aren't fully potty trained. Some children still need to work on their communication skills, socialization skills. So schools really need to work on how this will be rolled out,

Speaker 1: (08:15)

Right? How are they preparing to offer TK?

Speaker 7: (08:18)

You know, we're still in the very, very early stages of this. So we haven't gotten a clear picture of how the schools are gonna be implementing this. But I think it's gonna be really interesting to see how each school district runs their TK programs and just how universal they will be. You know, one teacher we spoke to said, her district is remodeling her school and they are already keeping the TK programs in mind. They haven't done much planning as far as the classrooms and teachers, but she told me that they have started to purchase smaller furniture, you know, adequate for these younger children,

Speaker 1: (08:50)

Childcare providers of course seem to be caught in the middle of this. And as a group they've been through a lot since the pandemic. Can you remind us about the struggles that they've already faced?

Speaker 7: (09:01)

Yeah. I mean, childcare providers are barely recovering after the pandemic. You know, some centers had to close during the pandemic and when they did come back, they had to reduce the number of kids that, that they can accept. You know, they had to enforce new rules like masking and safety protocols, or, you know, some centers even shut down. They didn't make it out of the pandemic. So, so this program really comes at a time when the rules have eased up and parents are going back to the office and the centers are back in demand. A lot of them with wait lists of children waiting for a spot. But now that is all being threatened because of this universal TK program. You know, if childcare costs are as high as a second mortgage and the state now offers a free program at their local public school. And oftentimes where an older sibling is already going, what route do you think parents are going to take? It's a tough situation. Although, you know, I will add that some parents express think about staying with their current private childcare provider, if they don't like what the public schools are offering. So again, we're talking about the ratios and the curriculum. So I think it's gonna be really interesting to see how it all plays out.

Speaker 1: (10:08)

I've been speaking with KPBS, north county reporter, Tanya thorn, Tanya. Thank you very much.

Speaker 7: (10:13)

Thank you.

Weber has now applied for a license to care for younger children to make up for the 3- and 4-year-olds leaving her preschool.

But the changes to her business aren't her biggest concern.

“There were children that still had frequent accidents throughout the day. That couldn't hardly express themselves to communicate and articulate their needs. Those are very, very critical components in a child's life,” Weber said. “We could talk about how this is going to affect businesses all day long, but what we need to really, really focus on is the developmental concerns and the generation of children that will stem from this.”

Weber fears that school districts will be burdened with a new set of responsibilities.

“There's a reason why childcare centers have staff with very specialized education for children birth through five years,” she said. “As well as elementary staff have specialized credentials for teaching above 5 years of age and how it's proposed to mix those models, I don't know.”

Already, California kids born between September and December can enroll in free TK. One teacher for that age group said for the program to work, schools need the proper resources. Resources that are already scarce as districts across the region face massive staffing shortages.

She asked that KPBS not use her name to protect her job.

“I am concerned about how the district is going to implement this and whether or not they have the staffing to provide the adequate support for all of the students that will be coming in. With the added extra students they would definitely need to get a lot more staff that have both the teaching credential and the early childhood education units,” she said.

California public schools have until the 2025 school year to implement universal transitional kindergarten classrooms.

Universal transitional kindergarten could bring relief to parents, but threatens childcare providers