COVERING THE COST: Santa Barbara and other local, community-funded school districts will receive significantly less funding from the state to support their transitional kindergarten programs, forcing them to find other ways to cover the cost. | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

A recent California mandate requiring schools to offer universal transitional kindergarten (TK) programs by 2025 would put a strain on the budgets of several school districts in Santa Barbara, according to their administrators and faculty. This would cause a ripple effect of budget cuts and potentially forcing schools to cut or delay other school programs, these educators are warning their communities as well as Sacramento legislators.

Earlier this year, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the mandate, which includes requiring a 12-to-one ratio of students to adults in transitional kindergarten classes and expanding the age eligibility for 4-year-olds who, because of when their birthdays fell, would have missed the cutoff for kindergarten. 

Santa Barbara Unified School District and neighboring districts such as Hope and Carpinteria are community-funded districts, meaning the majority of the school’s funding is made from local property taxes and not from the state. Though most districts in California will receive additional funding from the state to support the transitional kindergarten program, Santa Barbara and other local districts will receive significantly less, forcing these districts to find other ways to cover the cost.

The program will be phased in over the next three school years until the 2025-26 school year, when it is mandated to be fully functional. Once the program is fully integrated, Assistant Superintendent Business Services for Santa Barbara Unified Kim Hernandez said the district will have hired up to eight additional teachers, and between 14 and 16 additional para-educators, due to the new student-teacher ratio mandate. This staff increase will translate into a potential $1.2 million increase in the annual district budget, Hernandez said, not including the potential hundreds of thousands of dollars that new facilities, such as bathrooms accessible for smaller children, will cost.

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Superintendent of Hope Unified School District Anne Hubbard said that unless Hope District receives additional funding, the school might have to delay a dual immersion program, which supports students learning two languages, Spanish and English, concurrently. She said it also might force the school to increase its class sizes across all grade levels. “For Hope, there’s a huge difference in what we can offer if this program isn’t funded,” Hubbard said, explaining that additional state funding could mean a more quality education for transitional kindergarten students versus a bare-bones curriculum. “I’m going to have to make cuts no matter what.”

Officials from the Santa Barbara education community, including Hernandez and Hubbard, have been working with state legislators such as Senator Monique Limón to implore other legislators to agree to provide more funding for the districts that must rely on money from community taxes.

Senator Limón has sent a letter to her colleagues about this issue, calling on them to recognize the financial crisis this would cause for community funded districts. “When TK was created for a small cohort of students, many school districts in my area absorbed this new cost by redirecting funds from existing programs,” she said. “An expansion of transitional kindergarten for a full 12 months will be even more costly and will jeopardize the quality of the academic programs in our district.”

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