Newsom vetoes bill to make kindergarten mandatory

Despite a tenure that has focused on early education, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday vetoed a bill that would have made kindergarten compulsory in California.

In his veto message, Newsom said the intention to make kindergarten compulsory, while “commendable,” would cost the state up to $268 million each year.

That’s not reflected in the state’s record-breaking budget and spending plan, the governor added.

“As our state faces lower-than-expected revenues in the early months of this fiscal year, it’s important to remain disciplined on spending, particularly current spending,” he said. “We must prioritize existing commitments and priorities, including education, health, public safety and safety net programs.”

Still, Newsom, who has been lauded by early education advocates for a multibillion-dollar plan to increase access to preschool and transitional kindergarten, reiterated that learning is critical for the state’s youngest students.

“Ensuring that all children start their school careers to learn at eye level with their peers is one of the most powerful things we can do to tackle societal inequalities,” he said.

Senate Bill 70, written by Senator Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park), would have required children to complete a year of kindergarten before entering first grade, beginning in the 2024-25 school year.

Dozens of school districts and education groups backed the bill, citing academic setbacks experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic when parents turned down kindergarten to avoid problems with distance learning.

Like most states, California does not mandate kindergarten like other classes do. California children who are 5 years old are eligible for preschool, but are not required by law to attend school until they are 6 years old.

“During the pandemic, parents have had to make difficult family decisions and for some, this has resulted in their children being kept away from traditional kindergarten programs. Children from low-income communities and bilingual children have been particularly affected by learning losses as a result of COVID,” said Patricia Lozano, executive director of Early Edge California, who supported the bill. “Now we want to do everything we can to close the gaps in opportunity as quickly as possible – for this, compulsory kindergarten is more important than ever.”

The only opposition to the bill came from the California Homeschool Network, which said the requirement of an additional school year is a state overreach that limits parent choices.

SB 70, the latest in a series of bills vetoed by Newsom, warns of lower-than-expected government revenues.

The California Treasury Department said earlier this month that August revenue came in $816 million, or 6% below state officials’ forecasts.

The Legislature has sent measures to the governor’s desk with a potential cost of “well over” $20 billion in one-time spending commitments and more than $10 billion in ongoing commitments, Newsom said in his SB 70 veto message.

“Bills with significant tax implications like this measure should be considered and accounted for as part of the annual budget process,” he said. Newsom vetoes bill to make kindergarten mandatory

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