A bill to make kindergarten mandatory for all students ahead of entering the first grade in California starting in the 2026-2027 school year was introduced in the Assembly on Monday.
Assembly Bill 2226, authored by Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance), would require a child to have completed one year of kindergarten before that child may be admitted to the first grade at a public elementary school beginning with the 2026–27 school year, except for a child who has been lawfully admitted to a public school kindergarten or a private school kindergarten in California, but has not yet completed one school year, and is judged to be ready for first-grade work.
Muratsuchi wrote AB 2226, along with Senator Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park) introducing the similar SB 1056, because of an achievement gap between students in first grade between those that did go to kindergarten and those who didn’t. Both also noted that studies have found that students in mandatory Kindergarten states tend to go to college more and get higher paying jobs, as well as increased benefits for many black, Hispanic, immigrant, and lower-income students.
The bills also fall at the heels of a failed bill in 2022 that would have done the same thing. SB 70, also authored by Rubio, had passed the Senate and Assembly. However, opposition ran deep, as opponents of SB 70, which included most GOP state legislators, education policy experts, and even the California Department of Finance stood against the bill. While it was agreed that high education standards are important, questions of whether mandatory classes would actually help students, as well as the high costs of such a program, caused many to balk at SB 70. Experts also said that SB 70 would specifically have the state hire another 20,000 students into the public school system mid-decade, putting a strain on schools, teacher hirings, and would ultimately add $268 million to the budget annually.
Newsom, in the midst of several budget crises, decided to veto the bill due to the cost.
“While the author’s intent is laudable, SB 70 is estimated to have Prop. 98 General Fund cost impacts of up to $268 million ongoing, which is not currently accounted for in the state’s fiscal plan,” wrote Newsom in his veto letter two years ago. “With our state facing lower-than-expected revenues over the first few months of this fiscal year, it is important to remain disciplined when it comes to spending, particularly spending that is ongoing. We must prioritize existing obligations and priorities, including education, health care, public safety and safety-net programs. The Legislature sent measures with potential costs of well over $20 billion in one-time spending commitments and more than $10 billion in ongoing commitments not accounted for in the state budget. Bills with significant fiscal impact, such as this measure, should be considered and accounted for as part of the annual budget process. For these reasons, I cannot sign this bill.”
Despite the high costs not going away, both Muratsuchi and Rubio focused heavily on the education aspect and skirted around the monetary issue on Monday, despite the $68 billion State Budget deficit.
“We know the achievement gap is present before children attend first grade,” said Assemblyman Muratsuchi on Monday. “California is making substantial investments in pre-kindergarten programs, including transitional kindergarten (TK) and the California State Preschool Program (CSPP), providing opportunities for children to have two years of high-quality early education before entering first grade. To fully realize this goal, we must ensure that all children attend kindergarten to build the foundational skills and knowledge necessary to support their ongoing academic and social-emotional success.”
Senator Rubio added, “As a public school teacher for over 17 years, I have witnessed firsthand the detrimental impact on young students who miss out on fundamental early education. The voluntary participation for kindergarten leaves students unprepared for the educational environment they will encounter in elementary school. Recent data from the California Research Bureau shows that the majority of students who are not enrolled in kindergarten are Latino, creating an equity issue throughout the state and worsening the already troubling achievement gap. We have a responsibility to uplift all children in our community and ensure all students reach their full potential. This will only happen if every child is enrolled in kindergarten.”
Despite the support from the lawmakers, as well as teachers unions and school districts across the state, experts expect the bills to fail once again this year, because of continued fiscal issues with the state.
“This is a terrible time to bring forth any kind of legislation asking for more money,” explained Ronald Chavez, an LA-based education policy financial consultant, to the Globe on Monday. “No one is saying that California shouldn’t have mandatory California. There isn’t one lawmaker out there saying that. It just goes back to that huge cost.”
“If Muratsuchi and Rubio want their bills passed, they need to find a way to make it not add anything to the budget. You want mandatory Kindergarten? Then find places you can slash the budget elsewhere to make room for that. Remember, the hundreds and millions needed to fund this isn’t a one time only expense, but yearly because of all the new teacher hirings and sudden rise of student costs.”
“Again, everyone seems to want mandatory Kindergarten, but it is just too expensive to implement right now. Their plan was take vetoed bill because of cost, don’t change a thing, try to get it passed again despite even worse monetary worries this year. For an educational bill this sure isn’t smart.”
AB 2226 is expected to be heard in Assembly Committees soon.
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Author: Evan Symon
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