California Assembly Passes Bill to Make Kindergarten Mandatory

(Los Angeles Times/TNS) — After several failed attempts, California lawmakers are once again working to mandate that children attend kindergarten, with the state Assembly passing a bill to make it compulsory Tuesday.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration and, if passed, will head to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.

Newsom vetoed a similar bill in 2022, calling the effort “laudable” but saying the costs were not accounted for in the state’s budget. Then-Gov. Jerry Brown also vetoed a proposal for mandatory kindergarten in 2014, arguing that because most children already attend kindergarten and those who don’t are often enrolled in other appropriate programs, parents should be able to determine what’s best for their offspring.

If AB 2226 is approved by the Senate and signed into law by Newsom, it would require California kids to complete one year of kindergarten before enrolling in first grade in a public school, beginning with the 2026-27 school year.

School is mandatory for 6-year-old students, but California — like most other states — does not mandate kindergarten.

Children are eligible for kindergarten at age 5, but are not required to attend. Still, most do. Data suggest that about 3.5% of California students who attended public first grade during the 2022-2023 did not attend kindergarten the prior year, according to an Assembly Appropriations Committee analysis.

The legislation would create costs that are “potentially in the $100-million range annually” for increased per-student funding to attend kindergarten, according to the committee analysis.

Newsom and state lawmakers are already contending with a $44.9-billion budget deficit. Amid that grim forecast, the governor described a spending plan earlier this month that would shrink the size of state government and slow his progressive policy agenda.

A Newsom spokesperson declined to comment on pending legislation.

The bill was introduced by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi, D-Rolling Hills Estates, with Sen. Susan Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, introducing a similar measure in the Senate. Rubio also introduced the bill that Newsom vetoed in 2022.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, which co-sponsored the 2024 bill, argued that kindergarten “is critical to closing the opportunity gap and furthering equity,” citing research that shows that kids who went to kindergarten are more likely to attend college and to earn more, and are less likely to experience poverty as adults.

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