Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, vetoed legislation Sunday night that would have required children to attend kindergarten — whether through homeschooling or public or private school — before entering first grade at a public school.
As he has with other recent legislative vetoes, Newsom cited the costs associated with providing mandatory kindergarten — about $268 million annually, which he said was not accounted for in the state budget.
Newsom has supported similar legislation in the past. Last year, he signed a package of education bills, including one transitioning the state to universal pre-K starting in the 2025-26 school year. But the state's Department of Finance opposed the mandatory kindergarten bill, stating it would strain funds by adding up to 20,000 new public school students.
Proponents of mandatory kindergarten say it could help close the academic opportunity gap for students from lower-income families and students of color, as well as help children develop important social skills before first grade. The bill was introduced after K-12 attendance rates dropped during the pandemic and some students struggled with online learning.
Kindergarten enrollment in California dropped nearly 12% in the 2020-21 academic year compared to the previous year, according to the state Department of Education. Nationwide, public school enrollment dropped by 3% in 2020-21 compared to the previous school year, with preschool and kindergarten enrollment dropping at higher rates, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Samantha Fee of Citrus Heights said her 7-year-old son could solve practically any math equation during the 2020-21 school year while he attended kindergarten online. But by the end of the school year, he still couldn’t read and didn’t know all his letters.