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More California students eligible for expanded transitional kindergarten

School districts across San Diego County are preparing for the arrival in fall of hundreds of preschool students who will be part of California’s first universal transitional kindergarten class.

Since 2012, the state has funded transitional kindergarten, better known as TK, for children who turn 5 years old between early September and early December. Beginning this fall, the age cutoff date will extend to February.

There are already 500 children in TK classes in the Chula Vista Elementary School District, the largest elementary school district in the state.

“We’ll be adding additional months each year until 2025-26,” said Rita Palet, the district's senior director of early childhood education. “By that time all children who turn 4 by Sept. 1 will be allowed public education. It will become a whole new grade level."

Rosa Linda Batista is a kindergarten teacher at Halecrest Elementary in Chula Vista. The 24-year district veteran has also taught preschoolers and says she knows the value of preparing children for the routines and responsibilities of a full day of school.

“They come in knowing so much more, and they become confident and independent," Batista said. "They sort of become leaders for kiddos who didn’t get that experience. So they are models and it just makes it so much easier for everyone."

The new $2.7 billion universal TK program will eventually serve nearly 400,000 students across the state. It will be available to all children regardless of income.

Chula Vista Elementary expects to add 300 universal TK students in the first year.

Staffing will be a big challenge, educators say. California, which already has a teacher shortage, will need an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 new teachers and 16,000 new teaching assistants for transitional kindergarten.

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M.G. Perez
Amelia, 6, shows the paper crown she created for Mother's Day in her kindergarten class, Chula Vista, May 6, 2022

Batista believes that it's an investment the state must make. “If we focus on a child’s well-being, they are going to do better and be more successful in life and the classroom, as well,” she said.