Mandatory kindergarten bill passes California Senate

Four-year-old student, Alan, mimics the movements to a song about numbers during a kindergarten program at East Oakland Pride Elementary. (ASHLEY HOPKINSON/EDSOURCE TODAY)

The California Senate on Wednesday passed a key early education bill that would make kindergarten compulsory in the state. Senate Bill 70 , which would require all students to complete a year in kindergarten before entering first grade to ensure children are prepared for elementary school, now heads to the state Assembly.

“As a public school teacher for 17 years, I have witnessed the detrimental impact on young students who miss out on fundamental early education,” said Sen. Susan Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, who introduced the bill. “The voluntary participation for kindergarten leaves students unprepared for the educational environment they will encounter in elementary school. The pandemic has exacerbated this reality.”

Kindergarten is not compulsory in most states, according to the Education Commission of the States, a research group that tracks education policy. Children are required to be enrolled in school at age 6 in California.

An estimated 5% to 7% of students in the state do not enroll in kindergarten, according to the California Kindergarten Association, in an average year, although this number ballooned during the pandemic, experts say, widening the achievement gap.

Kindergartners who miss 10% or more school days have lower academic performance when they reach first grade, according to the National Education Association. Low-income students may fall as much as 9 months behind higher-income students due to classes missed in spring 2020, research suggests.

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