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LA Unified unveils plan to expand transitional kindergarten

Vanessa Romo | June 15, 2015

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kindergartenLA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines today unveiled a plan to phase out the School Readiness Language Development Program (SRLDP), a specialized program serving 10,000 low-income four-year olds, and expand transitional kindergarten.

Cortines’ strategy represents a complete overhaul of district services by 2016-17 for thousands of the early education students who often begin school at a disadvantage with limited language skills.

“I believe that the foundation of language and literacy for young children begins with a structured, developmentally appropriate, high quality preschool program,” Cortines wrote in a letter to board members on Friday.

He assured board members that he and his advisors “have made sure that there are enough schools in any given area so that the same number of low-income children can be supported as were previously served in SRLDP.”

Under the new plan, 2,800 children born between December 3, 2011 and March 31, 2012 will be eligible for the district’s transitional kindergarten classes. The children would have otherwise enrolled in SRLDP before the change. Transitional kindergarten had previously limited access to 10,200 children born before December 2, 2011.

The school board voted in March to cut SRLDP by 45 percent this fall and completely eliminate the program by 2016-17. As a result, the district closed 138 classrooms. However, 117 of those will reopen as transitional kindergarten starting next year while the rest will continue as SRLDP.

The reduction plan was part of the district’s efforts to minimize a projected deficit at the time. The language program costs about $36 million annually and the partial shut down saves the district $14.3 million. But that was before state officials released revised budget revenues that will send another $700 million into district coffers. 

Advocates of SRLDP had since hoped the unexpected injection of money would inspire Cortines and the board to reinstate the pre-kindergarten classes.

Instead, Cortines seized on it as an opportunity to restructure the system, with the greatest change occurring in the length of the school day. While SRLDP offers less than three hours of instruction each day, transitional kindergarten is six hours long. Class sizes are also changing. Whereas SRLDP classes are limited to 18 pupils, transitional kindergarten classes are capped at 24.

Students living in poverty — identified as those who qualify for free and reduced lunch — will have priority to enroll in the program.

Executive director of Early Childhood Education for the district, Maureen Diekmann, told LA School Report phasing out SRLDP will have no impact on employment numbers.

“Former SRLDP teachers in schools that are not implementing the new expansion program will move to a different grade level within that school if they want to,” she said, explaining that they “are usually more senior teachers.”

About 21 teachers will be reassigned, according to Diekmann.

“Nobody is going to get pink slipped because most school lose at least one teacher every year either due to retirement or other promotion opportunities,” she said.

The teachers union, UTLA, adamantly opposed cuts to SRLDP, but it is unclear where it stands on Cortines’ new proposal. UTLA did not respond to requests for comment.

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