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Charters Balk At Pre-K Law

Associated Press

(Sept. 18, 2012) -- A California law requires public schools to add a grade level this fall designed to give the very youngest students a boost when they enroll in kindergarten, but charter schools say the law does not apply to them, pitting them against the state Department of Education.

The education department says the 2010 Kindergarten Readiness Act requiring transitional kindergarten programs applies to all public schools, including charters.

"The department believes if a school offers kindergarten, it's also obligated to offer transitional kindergarten," said department spokesman Paul Hefner.

The California Charter Schools Association, however, analyzed the law at length and told its members that transitional kindergarten is optional, said Colin Miller, the association's vice president of policy.

More than 800 school districts rolled out transitional kindergarten programs this school year in compliance with the law, but many charter schools have not launched the program. Charter schools are public, taxpayer-funded schools that are independently operated but loosely overseen by the agency that authorizes them. In California, that's mostly the local school district.

The disagreement over transitional kindergarten adds to the competitive tension between traditional public schools and charters over various policies, including enrollment of English learners and students with severe disabilities, and allowing charters to take over classroom space on traditional school campuses