California this week moved a step closer to potentially making kindergarten mandatory for students after the state Legislature approved a bill which would require all children to attend one year of kindergarten before they can go to first grade.
State Senate Bill 70 was passed by the state Senate Monday, and is now headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for his signature.
The bill would be enacted in the 2024-25 school year if signed into law. In 2014, a similar bill, Assembly Bill 1444, was vetoed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. Newsom has not indicated whether he plans to sign SB 70.
SB 70 was approved by the California State Assembly earlier this month.
State Sen. Susan Rubio, who proposed SB 70, said children who don’t go to kindergarten miss out on important lessons and skills that are helpful for the rest of their education.
“As a public school teacher for 17 years, I have witnessed the detrimental impact on young students who miss out on fundamental early education,” Rubio said in a press release. “The voluntary participation for kindergarten leaves students unprepared for the educational environment they will encounter in elementary school.”
If signed by Newsom, California would become the twentieth state to have a rule in place requiring children to attend kindergarten. Other states with this requirement in place include Connecticut, Maryland and Wisconsin.
The bill states that children can meet the kindergarten requirement in either public or private school, but that transitional kindergarten would not count towards it.
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho voiced the district’s support for the bill in a press release, arguing that it would help even the playing field for students in marginalized communities.
“Research shows that kindergarten is an essential part of a student’s development, narrowing opportunity gaps and reducing chronic absenteeism,” Carvalho said. “Mandating a full year of kindergarten ensures students receive high-quality academic, social and developmentally-appropriate learning experiences.”
The bill digest added that children in states with mandatory kindergarten are “more likely to go to college and earn higher wages, and are less likely to experience poverty as adults.”
According to the NEA, students who go to full-day kindergarten are much more likely to succeed in math and reading. The association cited a study which compared test scores from children who went to full-day kindergarten to those of children who attended half-day kindergarten, or who did not attend at all.
“In one Indiana district, for example, students in full-day kindergarten received significantly higher basic skills test scores in the third, fifth, and seventh grades, than students who only attended half-day or did not attend kindergarten at all,” the NEA wrote in a policy brief.
Opponents of the bill argue that requiring kindergarten would not necessarily address education issues such as literacy.
“Mandating kindergarten for the relatively small minority of students who are not attending will not solve California’s massive literacy and numeracy problems,” wrote Lance Izumi, senior director of the Center for Education at the Pacific Research Institute.
Izumi argues that because children mature at different rates, it would make more sense to leave the decision to parents.
And while kindergarten enrollment increased in California in the 2021-2022 school year compared to the previous year, the number of children attending kindergarten in the state is significantly lower than the pre-pandemic figure, according to numbers from the California Department of Education.