California's migration to transitional kindergarten hit a roadblock when Gov. Jerry Brown proposed its elimination in January, but advocates are pushing forward, bolstered by a recent legislative committee's rejection of his plan and a new promise of state funding.

Although California's budget remains in flux, Oakley, Livermore, Oakland, Antioch and Byron districts in the East Bay plan to provide the specialized kindergarten programs for youngsters who turn 5 after Nov. 2."We're excited about it," said Stephanie Anello, Antioch's associate superintendent of educational services. "It's a great opportunity for some children who might not be ready (for kindergarten)."

Anne Allen, Oakley's associate superintendent of educational services, adds: "From everything we've heard, the Kindergarten Readiness Act is a law, so the funding can't be just simply cut from it."

The law, signed in September 2010, established transitional kindergarten for children who turn 5 between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2. The program was to be phased in over three years starting this fall, beginning with students whose birthdays are in November.

But rather than let the governor kill the program, quick and decisive action has had the opposite effect. Opposition from legislators and early childhood education advocates prompted changes in the governor's proposed bill to assure funding and allow more students to take advantage of the program than was previously envisioned, said Scott Moore, policy adviser for Preschool California, an advocacy organization.

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, will hold an Assembly committee hearing Thursday in Concord to clear up misconceptions.

"I am committed to helping local education leaders resolve their questions and reassuring school districts that they can and should move forward with fully implementing transitional kindergarten," Bonilla said.

The confusion is understandable, given the tug of war over the program since January.

First, the governor's bill eliminated transitional kindergarten, Moore said. Next, the bill was amended by the governor's office to say districts could offer it if they chose, but they wouldn't get money for students until they turned 5. Then it was changed so districts could receive full funding at the beginning of the year. And the most recent version expands eligibility to children who turn 5 anytime during the school year, but still keeps it optional. Children would be admitted on a case-by-case basis.

"So, that's the actual proposal that's on the table today," Moore said. "This has been very confusing for school districts to track, let alone to analyze and actually know what it means."

Teachers at a pilot program for transitional kindergarten in San Ramon Valley say the expectations of children enrolled in kindergarten classes are similar to what was expected of first graders decades ago. This creates problems for younger students who may not conceptually understand what they are supposed to be learning, said teachers Ozma Ferren and Cathy Doll.

In most districts, kindergarten classes now include children ranging in ages from 4 to 6, who can vary widely developmentally. Transitional kindergarten, Ferren said, gives the younger students "another year of growth opportunity."

With a stronger emphasis on hands-on learning, children in the program learn to make letters by moving Play-Doh or drawing in sand, as opposed to writing it out on paper, Ferren said. Many of the younger kids are fidgety and not used to interacting socially with others, she added.

"There are a lot of tears at first. A lot of little eyes looking like, 'What do you want from me?' " Doll said. "But, slowly they've gotten into a routine and are getting it."

During a recent lesson, Ferren taught students the letter P by telling them to make a "tall standing line" on their papers followed by a "tummy that goes to the middle." Students also communicated through sign language.

Oakley plans to have a class of about 30 transitional students at Laurel Elementary in the fall, whether or not state funding comes through. The district has committed to paying for the program with general fund money through Dec. 2, said Anne Allen, assistant superintendent of educational services.

"We are following the current law," she said. "More than that, we are doing what is right for kids."

Antioch Unified is creating an interactive, student-driven curriculum at three of the district's elementary schools next fall. And Oakland plans to offer programs for nearly 200 children at 10 schools. The Martinez district will offer transitional kindergarten to students who turn 5 between Nov. 2 and Dec. 2 at John Swett Elementary, but will open it to those with October and September birthdays if space is available, said CJ Cammack, director of student services.

Earlier this month, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance, which Bonilla chairs, voted to reject the governor's proposal to eliminate the mandate that districts offer transitional kindergarten. The Senate Education Budget Subcommittee expects to review the bill in April before it goes on to the full legislature.

Access to transitional kindergarten programs will become more critical as a child's age to qualify for regular kindergarten is scaled back in coming years. The kindergarten cutoff date moves to Nov. 2 in 2012, to Oct. 1 in 2013, then to Sept. 1 in 2014. If the governor's revised bill is passed, districts could choose to offer transitional kindergarten to students who turn 5 after Dec. 2.

Staff writers Katy Murphy, Chris Treadway, Jennifer Modenessi and Lisa White contributed to this report.

PLANS FOR Next Year
Sampling of where East Bay school districts stand on
transitional kindergarten plans as of March 23.
Will offer:
Antioch
Byron
Castro Valley
Livermore
Martinez
Oakley
Oakland
West Contra Costa
Will offer if state funds are in place:
Albany
Brentwood
Moraga
Pittsburg
San Ramon Valley
Undecided:
Mt. Diablo
Not implementing:
Lafayette
Orinda
More information about transitional kindergarten is available at www.tkcalifornia.org. For additional details, read the On Assignment blog at www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.

IF YOU GO
Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, will hold a Select Assembly Committee on High Quality Early Childhood Education hearing with Contra Costa County school district leaders regarding transitional kindergarten at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Woodside Elementary, 761 San Simeon Drive in Concord.
More information is available by visiting http://asmdc.org/members/a11. Click on "Upcoming Events."