Governor Gavin Newsom | Credit: Courtesy

California Governor Gavin Newsom has passed new mandates to achieve universal transitional kindergarten (TK) by 2025, including requiring a 12-to-one ratio of students to adults in TK classes and expanding the age eligibility for 4-year-olds who would have missed the cutoff for kindergarten. Locally, this could put an even greater strain on schools already struggling with staff shortages. 

Nearly all elementary schools in the Santa Barbara Unified School District already have TK programs or a combination of TK and kindergarten, said Assistant Superintendent Ana Escobedo, with Santa Barbara Community Academy, the last school to adopt a TK program. Escobedo said the most pressing issue the new mandate presents is the requirement of more adults. “This is the challenge across the nation,” she said. 

Part of Governor Newsom’s mandate was an attempt to reduce overall class sizes, going from a requirement of 24 students to one adult, to 12 students to one adult. However, teachers and district staff across the country have been leaving their positions since the beginning of the pandemic. Due to this national shortage, it might take longer than the 2025-26 deadline “to hire the necessary people, and to create funding to pay them,” Escobedo said. 

Newsom’s plan is part of a $123.9 billion Pre-K and K-12 education package, and he promises to put $300 million toward increasing TK programs. However, creating enough funding, not only for more employees but also to build facilities and purchase materials, might also put the district past the 2025-26 completion threshold.

Despite these potential challenges, Escobedo said district officials are working with state legislators to find a solution to the funding conundrum. “In Santa Barbara, we’re very clear about our commitment to quality Pre-K programs,” she said. 

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