Current Legislation Pending

April 14, 2012

I am the Legislative Chair for the HomeSchool Association of California. I have been following two new bills introduced in the California Assembly that would require every child to start school at age five or at least complete a year of kindergarten before enrolling in first grade. These bills impact all parents with school-age children, whether or not the parents use (or intend to use) public school programs or private schools (including home-based private schools operated by the parents).

I think all of the big statewide homeschooling groups (CHN and CHEA) as well as HSLDA are also recommending to their members that they take action to oppose both bills.

Please read through this email. If you do not wish either of the bills to be enacted into law, it is urgent that you take action. Since, strictly speaking, neither bill would affect the essential right to teach children at home, the big statewide groups will probably not be taking action in their names. The only thing that will prevent their passage is individual action by many parents.

You are free (and encouraged) to forward this email to your friends or to any other lists. Many voices can make a difference.

My approach to legislation is to give you all the information so that you can reach your own decision, rather than just asking you to call. I risk overloading everyone, but want you to know what I know.

      AB2203 was introduced by Manuel Perez (San Diego). This bill would simply amend Section 48200 of the Education Code to reduce the beginning age at which school attendance becomes compulsory from six to five.

Why is he doing this? We believe, based on statements he has made, that he is particularly concerned that ESL students who do not go to kindergarten and attend formal school for the first time in first grade are at a huge disadvantage; they fall behind early and never catch up. He also lists a number of "findings", including the tautological statement that students who are in formal schooling early are better at formal schooling, and cites the pervasive push-down of the elementary curriculum to kindergarten and the effect on children who missed the opportunity to master that curriculum before first grade.

The first hearing on this bill was held on April 11, and someone from the legislative team at CHN attended. She reported that it was passed along party lines, meaning that it now goes to the Committee on Appropriations (because it would require funding to implement) and, if it passes there, to the full Assembly for a vote (no hearing dates set yet). She said that during the committee's questions for the author of the bill, he was asked if there would be any way for parents to "opt out".  Assemblymember Perez stated that the parents could submit a form to the district asking to "opt out," but upon further questioning it was revealed that this would not actually allow parents to delay school entrance until the age of six.  Instead, it would allow the child to attend two years of kindergarten rather than just one. I believe he was referring to the existing language in Education Code Section 48011, which already states that parents may ask that their child be allowed to repeat kindergarten, which requires the school's consent. What is left out, of course, is any way for children who are not ready for any institutional program, or whose parents believe that an additional year at home would be better for the child, to be held out, whether they are academically ready or not.

The bill is simple, with no specific reference to kindergarten, but there is some possible confusion about how long the child must be there each day; the existing language in 48200 says "a pupil shall not be enrolled for less than the minimum schoolday established by law," and there is no reference to Section 48611 of the Education Code that sets out the law regarding kindergarten schoolday length.

       AB 1772 was introduced by Joan Buchanan (Contra Costa County) and takes a very different, and much more problematic, approach. I had been told that she had been thinking of coming on as a co-author of AB 2203, but wanted stronger language about kindergarten being compulsory, and her bill has already been amended to make that intent crystal clear: no kindergarten, then no first grade. I am not certain what her motivation is, but presumably something similar to Perez. The first hearing of this bill is scheduled for Wednesday, April 18 in the Assembly Education Committee.

Buchanan's bill leaves the compulsory school attendance age as 6-18, but adds a new section to the Education Code, Section 48001, that reads as follows:

“48001.  Beginning with the 2014-15 school year, a child shall complete one year of kindergarten before he or she may be admitted to the first grade.”

In addition, she would amend another Section of the Education Code, Section 48010, as follows:

“48010.  (a) A child shall be admitted to the first grade of an elementary school during the first month of a school year if the child has completed one year of kindergarten and  will have his or her sixth birthday on or before one of the following dates [with the existing language about cut-off birthdays left intact].”

There is no mistaking what this means: any six year old child whose parents are trying to enroll the child in first grade of a public school but who cannot produce acceptable proof that the child has completed a year of kindergarten would be REQUIRED to enroll the child in a kindergarten program, even if the child has mastered the kindergarten curriculum and is completely ready for first grade. It would not prohibit a private school from enrolling a child in first grade without completion of kindergarten and, to my reading, would not prohibit a child who had successfully completed first grade at a public or private school but who had not completed kindergarten from enrolling in second or higher grade. The bill does nothing to change the laws regarding kindergarten: it would cover the same curriculum, for the same length schoolday, as it presently does.
One obvious worry is whether the language of the bill grants to schools the right to judge the adequacy of the kindergarten program, but I think it does not. The same CHN representative contacted Buchanan's office, and asked how this bill would affect children who had attended a private school kindergarten program or who were transferring in from other states. She was told that Section 48011 would continue to apply, which I interpret as follows.
The first sentence of Section 48011 says:

“A child who, consistent with Section 48000, has been admitted to the kindergarten maintained by a private or a public school in California or any other state, and who has completed one school year therein, shall be admitted to the first grade of an elementary school unless the parent or guardian of the child and the school district agree that the child may continue in kindergarten for not more than an additional school year.”

To me, this says that, if the child has completed a year of kindergarten in any public or (legal) private school in California or another state, the child must be admitted to first grade unless the parent and school agree that no more than one additional year of kindergarten would be beneficial. There are no words in that sentence implying that the school has any discretion to refuse entrance based on a personal judgment about the quality of the kindergarten program. So if the parent can show that the child did a year of kindergarten in any school, including a legal home-based private school, the child should be enrolled.
There is a question, though, about what happens to academically advanced children. Many very bright children are "asynchronous", meaning their cognitive development and their social and emotional development are not in sync (often with academic skills well beyond their age peers and emotional skills that are behind their age peers), and many such children are kept out of formal kindergarten, even though they are more than capable of the academic component, to allow their social and emotional skills to catch up.
So a curious situation arises. Section 48011, which is not being amended, currently allows a five year old child who is deemed ready by the school for first grade work to be admitted to first grade, without having attended a formal kindergarten program, with the parent's consent. The statute reads as follows:

“A child who has been lawfully admitted to a public school kindergarten or a private school kindergarten in California and who is judged by the administration of the school district, in accordance with rules and regulations adopted by the State Board of Education, to be ready for first-grade work may be admitted to the first grade at the discretion of the school administration of the district and with the consent of the child's parent or guardian if the child is at least five years of age. When a child has been legally enrolled in a public school of another district within or out of the state, he or she may be admitted to school and placed in the grade of enrollment in the district of former attendance, at the discretion of the school administration of the district entered.”

Again, this is at the discretion of the school; children who are academically advanced may skip kindergarten if everyone agrees. Buchanan's bill does not make attendance at school compulsory for five year olds, and by leaving 48011 intact, they appear to be conceding that in certain cases a child should not be required to attend kindergarten but rather go straight to first grade (although Section 48001 should be amended to make this explicit).
But nothing is said about the child seeking to enroll in school for the first time at first grade (with or without having attended a year of kindergarten) who, by age six, has mastered the kindergarten curriculum and perhaps even that of first grade. If the child had first enrolled in school at age five, the parent would have had a way to force the school to consider acceleration, but the amended law provides none for forcing the school to consider placing a child who did not attend kindergarten but who is clearly ready for first grade in the appropriate challenge level, or for forcing the school to consider acceleration for a child who had not attended either kindergarten or first grade but who is ready for second grade. As written, since there is no equivalent provision to Section 48011, it would be illegal for a school to allow this for a six year old child, the school would be required to insist upon a full year of kindergarten even if the child would be repeating things he had learned at age three. You can only imagine the deadening effect that would have on able students.
     Arguments Against. Technically, neither AB 2203 nor AB 1772 would prohibit families from continuing to educate their children legally at home, whether by forming their own private school or enrolling their children in the public or private school of their choice. If either bill were passed, families would be required either to begin homeschooling their child at age five or to have the child complete a year of kindergarten in a public or private school prior to trying to enroll the child in first grade, and home-based private schools would be an acceptable choice. But I think people who believe that parents should not be forced to consider any formal schooling for their young child have many potential arguments.
  • At the very least, these bills would need to be amended to allow parents the right to opt out of kindergarten without needing permission of the state (in the case of AB 2203) and to be able to demonstrate readiness for first grade without attendance at a formal kindergarten program (AB 1772).
I believe that there are statistics (some quoted in Perez' materials) showing that over 90% of children already attend a kindergarten program. Of the remaining families, perhaps some are negligent parents who are not doing enough to help their children be ready to succeed in school, but we all certainly know of many caring and competent parents who have very good reasons, which should not be subject to second-guessing by the state, for choosing not to send their child to school at five.
  • The “findings” of the authors of these bills about the benefits of formal schooling are not universally accepted fact. There are many equally compelling studies that demonstrate the benefits of not sending children to formal programs away from home too soon. Diane Flynn Keith has posted on a number of lists outlining her concerns, and I will have to refer you to what she and others have written.
  • These laws would place a burden on families that are expecting to choose private education, whether for reasons of religion, quality or safety, forcing them to incur expenses a year early.
  • There is the obvious budgetary issue. Mandating compulsory kindergarten would be very expensive and California has no funds to spare. Surely targeted outreach programs to selected communities would be much cheaper and would leave existing school funds for the better use of educating the older students who are already required to attend.
I would not make this argument to a legislator, but there is another important reason to fight compulsory kindergarten. Just as many legislators honestly believe that every five year old should go out of the house to school, many also believe that toddlers should be required to attend preschool. But, under existing law, the legislature could not possibly pass a bill making attendance at preschool compulsory because attendance at kindergarten isn’t compulsory. If, however, kindergarten were legally required, the legislature would have no remaining barriers preventing them from trying to mandate attendance at preschool.
     How to Take Action. If you wish to oppose either or both of these bills, please consider contacting both your own Assembly members (we can probably wait on contacting members of the Senate until the bill passes out of the Assembly and is being considered in the Senate) as well as members of the Assembly Education Committee (for AB 1772). The best way to do this is by calling or by sending letters, either by fax or by mail (do NOT use email, as it is essentially ignored). You can find your Assembly member at http://assembly.ca.gov/. Once you have their name, look them up at http://assembly.ca.gov/assemblymembers.

The members of the Assembly Education Committee are:

Julia Brownley (Chair) (D) Phone: 916-319-2041 Fax: 916-319-2141
Chris Norby (Vice Chair) (R) Phone: 916-319-2072 Fax: 916-319-2172
Tom Ammiano (D) Phone: (916) 319-2013 Fax: 916-319-2113
Joan Buchanan (D) Phone: (916) 319-2015 Fax: 916-319-2115
Betsy Butler ( D) Phone: (916) 319-2053 Fax: 916-319-2153
Wilmer Amina Carter (D) Phone: (916) 319-2062 Fax: 916-319-2162
Mike Eng (D) Phone: (916) 319-2049 Fax: 916-319-2149
Shannon L. Grove (R) Phone: (916) 319-2032 Fax: 916-319-2132
Linda Halderman M.D. (R) Phone: (916) 319-2029 Fax: 916-319-2129
Donald P. Wagner (R) Phone: (916) 319-2070 Fax: 916-319-2170
Das Williams (D) Phone: (916) 319-2035 Fax: 916-319-2135

As mentioned above, AB 1772 will be heard by the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday, April 18. If it is possible to call or write by then, I am sure that significant public opposition would make an impression on the committee members. No hearing before the Appropriations Committee or the full Assembly has yet been scheduled for AB 2203, but I will try to send out the date when I have it.

If you call, just ask to speak to the staff member who works on education matters, tell them where you live, and tell them that you would like to urge that the member oppose both AB 2203 and AB 1772. You might be asked why you oppose the bills, so think about what you are going to say before calling. Probably the simplest thing is to say what you believe. You will not get many minutes of their time so be brief.
Conclusion.  The only way to prevent bad laws from being enacted is to make a stink, and no one is going to do it for you. If you forward this email to everyone you know who cares about doing what is right for children, and if you just make three calls a day, or split up a committee list with a friend, you will be doing all you can to protect the rights of parents to make important decisions for their children.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.


Debbie Schwarzer
HSC Legislative Chair




    Link to the HSC conference website.     
                         August 6-August 9, 2015