Tucked into a quick, unanimously-approved proposal last month was a small item that could lead to a big change for Long Beach Unified and its students next year.

The Board of Education voted to accept a list of bargaining proposals between the district and the Teachers Association of Long Beach in a process known as “sunshining,” which included adding discussion of full-day kindergarten.

With the board’s approval, the district and TALB have added it to their list of items to discuss over the next few months—a big move toward something that hasn’t been available across the district. Currently, kindergarten students in the district attend a half-day, either arriving late or leaving early. While nothing is guaranteed or certain at the start of bargaining, this move is a significant step forward in a debate that has been long, and complicated.

“It’s been a journey,” said LBUSD assistant superintendent Brian Moskovitz, who oversees the LBUSD’s elementary schools.

Parent advocates

When Alysa Turkowitz moved to Bixby Knolls from New York, she was surprised to find out that the LBUSD offered half-day kindergarten programs. In New York, kindergarten was offered for a full day schedule. As she did some digging, she found an oft-cited EdSource report that said that more than 70% of students in California were enrolled in full-day kindergarten as well.

“I said, ‘Why don’t we have this?’” she recalled. “What’s the hold up? There’s study after study about how valuable this is.”

Turkowitz began lobbying the LBUSD Board a few years ago, and formed a Facebook group called Full Day K to help organize parents around the issue. She said that as Long Beach increasingly has households where both parents are working, she sees it as an equity issue.

“Historically I know there were a lot of moms who stayed at home with their kids, so a mid-day pick-up or drop-off maybe made more sense,” she said. “Now to live here most families have both parents working. It becomes a matter of equity. Affluent kids can go to private school or their parents can put them in a better after-school care program. I’ve heard that from so many parents I’ve spoken with, that it’s a burden to pay for care for their children while they’re working.”

How did we get here?

The journey referenced by Moskovitz has included a few stops in Sacramento. In 2019, the State Assembly passed AB 197, which called for full-day kindergarten across the state. Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed the bill, citing large budget costs associated with expanding facilities and staff to accommodate it. Former Gov. Jerry Brown also vetoed a similar bill in 2014.

In California, students aren’t required to attend school until first grade, but there has been an increased push for earlier childhood education here and across the country. More and more districts have added full day kindergarten programs, and in July the State Assembly passed legislation requiring districts to offer transitional kindergarten, which is a full-day preschool program that comes the year before kindergarten.

Over the next few years as that program expands in the LBUSD along state requirements, the current system could create a world where a student attends a full-day TK program one year, a half-day kindergarten program the next, and then a full-day 1st grade the year after that. That’s not a system that would pass the smell test for the district or for parents.

“It’s definitely added some political incentive from the state level, in addition to parent pressure,” said Moskovitz.

He pointed out that some parents and teachers have pushed back on full-day for kindergarteners, but acknowledged many are in favor of it.

“There is a strong feeling from parents that it’s something we should be doing, and we’ve been exploring that,” he said.

The district had actually planned for the 2020-21 school year to be a potential jumping off point for a big pilot program, and hosted a large meeting in January 2020 at Longfellow Elementary with over 100 LBUSD kindergarten teachers present—some in favor of a full-day schedule, some against.

When COVID-19 hit, those plans were tabled. Moskovitz said nobody was interested in putting kindergarteners on a full day of Zoom class while campuses were closed. With campuses back open for 2021-22, the district currently has full-day kindergarten programs running on 11 campuses throughout the city.

“We have 11 schools piloting it, because they’re the teachers and schools who volunteered for that,” he said. “We’re gathering input from those teachers and principals about what’s working, what support they need, with the intention that if we were to expand it that we’d have some data and information available.”

What’s next?

A section of the current agreement between LBUSD and the union defines the structure of the work day for kindergarten teachers. That’s the section that was added to the list of “sunshined” proposals, and approved by the board.

LBUSD and TALB have already softened that language in the current agreement, making it so that this year teachers had the ability to try out the full-day schedule without fully waiving their contractual rights.

Per that section: “Unless and until negotiated otherwise, the extended or full day kindergarten will remain voluntary, but no contractual waiver is required.”

LBUSD and TALB bargaining teams began meeting recently to start the process of going through each side’s proposals to begin piecing together an agreement for the 2022-23 school year. Currently on the schedule are two bargaining sessions in January and February, plus one in March.

Time will tell if full-day kindergarten is in the cards for Long Beach going forward, although the fact that it’s being formally discussed is in itself a big move in that direction.

“I’m glad it’s on the agenda and I hope that it happens,” said Turkowitz, the parent advocate. “It would be such a huge deal educationally but also financially for so many families.”