CSBA examines UTK implementation considerations, insights in new policy brief and webinar

With local educational agencies preparing to create or expand transitional kindergarten offerings in the coming years, CSBA has developed a variety of resources to support these efforts.

A new research and policy brief, “Advancing Universal Transitional Kindergarten — Questions for School Board Members,” a corresponding quick facts sheet, and a pair of case studies focused on expanding prekindergarten access in San Diego County and the growth of early learning in Palermo Union School District are all available as references for insight and inspiration on looming changes statewide.

Further expanding upon those resources, which were drafted with partnering authors from University of California, Berkeley, CSBA on April 7 hosted a webinar, “The ABCs of UTK – Planning for Universal Transitional Kindergarten in Your District.”

The virtual event featured examples of lessons learned on implementation from Weaver Union School District and San Diego Unified School District, background and information on the existing planning template and guidance from California’s Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Sarah Neville-Morgan, presentations from UC Berkeley research partners, and a breakdown of CSBA’s legislative and budget perspectives.

UTK is one aspect of universal preK advancement efforts by the California Department of Education. The California State Preschool Program, Head Start, community-based organizations and private preschools are also being called upon to ensure that all 4-year-olds have access to learning before entering kindergarten.

Beginning in 2022–23, LEAs are required to offer TK to children turning 5 between Sept. 2 and Feb. 2 of that academic year. Student-to-staff ratios will be lowered from 12:1 to 10:1 by adding a new adult to TK classrooms as well. By 2025–26, students who turn 4 by Sept. 1 will need to have a TK spot available to them. Currently, a third of California’s districts enroll 12 or fewer students in TK. Local boards of education must approve TK expansion plans by June 30.

Potential challenges

Overall, in the next three years 250,000 more children are expected to enter transitional kindergarten, which will require an additional 11,000 TK teachers and more than 25,000 aides. At the same time, a teacher shortage is already plaguing schools. Other difficulties that LEAs may experience during implementation include unanticipated costs and organizing hurdles.

CSBA Legislative Director Chris Reefe highlighted some lingering implementation challenges.

Ensuring that all LEAs, including community funded districts, also called basic aid districts, have access to adequate funding to fulfill the state’s goals is critical. Basic aid districts currently do not receive additional funding for TK like Local Control Funding Formula districts. Facility capacity, the structure of previously approved bonds, and school transportation funding are some other challenging issues.

Another area that may require extensive planning and funds is appropriate facilities for younger learners, according to the research brief. “Classrooms must be developmentally appropriate, which may require renovation or the construction of new classrooms to accommodate younger children, which will require districts to look for local funding or appeal to the State Allocation Board for state facilities funding,” the authors state.

Some staffing relief comes in the form of a delay in the state requirement that incumbent teachers acquire 24 units in early childhood education before being assigned to TK classrooms, which has been pushed back to 2023–24, though some districts have local mandates on the matter. LEAs may consider moving teachers from other grade levels to TK if they’re familiar with developmentally appropriate practices.

Some steps that Weaver Union SD and San Diego USD have taken in an attempt to secure proper staffing include offering to pay for courses through the district and creating a workforce pipeline with local colleges to support educators in obtaining credentials, respectively.

The state has provided $200 million for planning and implementation purposes, including $176 million in grants to districts and $24 million in grants to county offices of education for countywide planning and capacity building.

As Abigail Slovick, UC Berkeley doctoral student, explained during the webinar, it is crucial to recognize differing local conditions when planning for implementation. TK enrollment is low in parts of the Bay Area, far northern counties, Fresno County and large parts of the Central Valley compared to higher counts in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties as well as LEAs in the East Bay area, according to enrollment counts from 2019–20.

Some questions, detailed in the brief, that LEAs might ponder include:

  • How will your district create and coordinate UTK plans?
  • Are there opportunities for your district to consolidate and streamline existing programs?
  • How can your district find qualified teachers and instructional aides?
  • Does your district have the infrastructure necessary to increase enrollment of UTK students?
  • Is there an opportunity to collaborate with nearby preK organizations?

All CSBA UTK-related materials are available to view here.

Additional resources from CDE:

Universal Prekindergarten and Transitional Kindergarten

California Educators Together