POSTED: Saturday, September 22, 2012 - 1:00pm
UPDATED: Saturday, September 22, 2012 - 1:04pm
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — California public schools have added a new grade level: Transitional Kindergarten.
The first new grade level in the state since 1891, the goal is to bridge preschool and kindergarten after a new cutoff age went into effect this fall.
State Senator Joe Simitian authored the "Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010" which created the program.
"We finally got the age right in California. For years and years, we have started these youngsters too soon. For at least a vast majority of them, they have struggled, have had failures and setbacks unnecessarily," Simitian says.
At George Miner Elementary in San Jose there is one transitional kindergarten class of 23 4-year olds, including Dylan Hightower.
His parents say this new program is huge benefit for them.
"We've been able to put him in this program at no cost to us and so it's just another opportunity for him to get an early start on that education," father Chris Hightower said.
To qualify for kindergarten starting this fall, a child has to be 5 on or before November 1st.
Next fall, that cutoff date is October 1st before it's phased into its permanent date of September 1st in the school year 2014-2015.
Simitian says this will not only help an estimated 125,000 students a year academically who may not have been prepared for kindergarten, but it will save Californians money.
"That not only put an extra burden on classroom teacher, it was a real cost to system and public. It meant that if there was remedial help, we had to pay for that. If students were held back a year, we had to pay for that. If the young ones were unnecessarily put in special education, we had to pay for that," he said.
Simitian said the money saved offsets the cost to run the transitional kindergarten classes.
The Hightowers add that this will save their family a lot of money, up to $6,000 a year for preschool or daycare.
Chris Hightower says this also gives him more space and control to move his life forward, after he's been out of work for the last four years.
"This is a great opportunity for us, this will give us more freedom, especially me, because I'm stay at home dad, to go out and find a job and be the role model that I think my kids want me to be," he said.