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Kindergarten in California

California state law and information regarding admission to kindergarten.

This guidance material is designed to address several public school kindergarten issues: enrollment age, continuance, and extended-day kindergarten. Although the pertinent kindergarten statutes apply only to public schools, some private schools voluntarily adhere to the state kindergarten statutes, and this guidance may be of assistance to them. This information may also be helpful to parents and guardians, as well as teachers of preschool, kindergarten, and first grade.

Kindergarten Enrollment

Since school is mandatory for six year old students, parents and guardians of six year old students must enroll their children in school (Education Code [EC] Section 48200 External link opens in new window or tab.). Admission of age-eligible children must occur at the beginning of the school year or whenever the students move into the school district.

While local education officials may need a day or two to identify the particular assigned kindergarten classroom, no age-eligible child may be denied access to school by being placed on a waiting list. Although demographics and class size reduction restrictions may prevent parents/guardians from enrolling their children in the neighborhood school, the district must provide the name(s) of available schools. Parents/guardians may discuss school choice options with district officials. To help make placement decisions, parents/guardians may compare schools online at either Ed-Data External link opens in new window or tab. or Data and Statistics. Both sites offer information on schools' demographics and characteristics.

Age-Eligible Children

Districts must admit children at the beginning of the school year (or whenever they move into a district) if they will be five years of age on or before September 1 (EC Section 48000[a]). Children who are age-eligible for kindergarten may attend any pre-kindergarten summer program maintained by the school district.

Information about items constituting proof of age supplied by parent or guardian is found in EC Section 48002. Immunization requirements are found in Health and Safety Code Section 120325 and Section 120335 and on the California Department of Education (CDE) Factbook Web page.

Early Admission for Under-Age Children to Kindergarten

Districts and CDE staff are frequently requested by parents/guardians to enroll children who are not age-eligible for transitional kindergarten, kindergarten, or first grade. The CDE has no authority to require districts to admit or accelerate under-age children. In addition to the laws mentioned above (in Age-Eligible Children), there is an additional local control option for admitting children to kindergarten. These children may not begin school at the beginning of the school year, but they must wait until their fifth birth date occurs (EC Section 48000[b]). While EC Section 48000(b) allows a child to be admitted early on a case-by-case basis, districts offering this option to families would be wise to have local governing board-adopted criteria by which students are accepted. Some districts base early admissions on test results, maturity of the child, or preschool records in order to be consistent with the early admission policy and to avoid being challenged by parents/guardians of whose children were denied early admission. It is a local control decision how this is accomplished, whether it is in writing, and whether there is an appeals process. If these children continue in kindergarten past the anniversary dates of their admission, the school must have signed Kindergarten Continuance Forms on file to continue the children in kindergarten to the end of the school year, and to avoid jeopardizing audit findings and result in a loss of apportionment.

Private School Considerations: Private schools are not required to comply with the California statutes defining kindergarten. However, the California Association of Private Schools Organizations (CAPSO) indicates that many private schools do voluntarily follow EC sections referred to in this document. Public school officials may not automatically enroll those students, who attended a private school kindergarten, to first grade (see First Grade Enrollment below).

Kindergarten Continuance

Continuance is defined as more than one school year in kindergarten. EC Section 48011 requires a child who has completed a year of kindergarten to be promoted to first grade, unless the parent or guardian and the district agree that the child may continue in kindergarten not more than one additional school year.

A parent/guardian who agrees their child is to continue in kindergarten must sign the Kindergarten Continuance Form (PDF) (available translations). Failure to have signed forms on file may jeopardize audit findings and result in a loss of apportionment.

EC sections 48070-48070.5 set forth requirements for pupil promotion and retention (PPR). While kindergarten was not a grade level included by legislators, EC Section 48070.5(j) enables local boards to adopt additional PPR policies. Districts considering continuance of kindergartners may want to consider:

  • Reviewing current research;
  • Developing a plan to reduce the rate of continuance;
  • Improving the instructional program for students at risk of continuance; and
  • Monitoring the progress of schools in reducing continuance rates, including the differential effects of continuance for different ethnic groups, non-English-speaking children, and over-representation based on gender.

Section 3934, subdivision (b), located in Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations, states:

(b) No program utilizing consolidated application funds shall:

  • Create special tracks for the educationally disadvantaged;
  • Establish adjustment, pregrade, or junior grade classes for the educationally disadvantaged.

Current literature reveals that retention may have a negative effect on student achievement, school attendance, attitude toward school, and student dropout rates. The CDE points to the need for districts and school staff to provide interventions for students who are at risk of failure and to prevent the need for retention. Therefore, appropriate interventions should not be delayed for kindergarten students.

Transitional Kindergarten

Transitional kindergarten (TK) is the first year of a two-year kindergarten program that uses a modified kindergarten curriculum that is age and developmentally appropriate. Senate Bill (SB) 858 establishes the intent that TK curriculum be aligned to the California Preschool Learning Foundations and California Preschool Curriculum Frameworks developed by the CDE. Each elementary or unified school district must offer TK classes for all children eligible to attend. A child who completes one year in a TK program, may continue in a kindergarten program for one additional year. A Kindergarten Continuance Form is not needed for children who are age-eligible for TK. A child is eligible for TK if they have their fifth birthday between September 2 and December 2 (inclusive) and each school year thereafter (EC 48000[c]).

However, pursuant to AB 104, EC 48000(c)(3)(B)(i) a school district or charter school may, at any time during a school year (including at the beginning of the school year) admit a child to a TK program who will have his or her fifth birthday after December 2 but during that same school year, with the approval of the parent or guardian, if the governing board of the school district or the governing body of the charter school determines that the admittance is in the best interests of the child and the parent or guardian is given information regarding the advantages and disadvantages and any other explanatory information about the effect of this early admittance. If these children continue in kindergarten past the anniversary dates of their TK admission, the school must have signed Kindergarten Continuance Forms on file to continue the children in kindergarten to the end of the school year, and to avoid jeopardizing audit findings and result in a loss of apportionment. Average Daily Attendance (ADA) can be claimed for these students once they attain the age of five (EC 48000(c)(B)(ii)).

Extended-Day Kindergarten

Extended-day kindergarten (EDK) is defined as a class, taught by the same certificated staff member, that exceeds the four-hour maximum number of school day minutes. In some districts, EDK is the same length of day as that for older elementary students. While local educational agencies (LEAs) do not receive additional apportionment funds to lengthen the kindergarten day, there is a growing interest in this topic. In 2009, about two thirds of United States kindergarten children attended full-day classes; in California, the percentage of students in full-day classes increased by 43%. For further information, visit The Public Policy Institute of California Web site on Full-Day Kindergarten in California [Link no longer available]. Educators may wish to extend the kindergarten day for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • To improve the educational program
  • To provide more time for the teacher to get to know each child
  • To encourage children's maximum social, emotional, physical, and academic growth
  • To address transportation issues related to district bus schedules
  • To address parental/guardian needs for child care

EC sections 46110-46119 detail the minimum and maximum lengths of the school day for kindergarten and other elementary grade classrooms. The maximum number of minutes for kindergarten is four hours, (EC Section 46111), excluding recess. However, recess time may be counted as instructional minutes, at the district's discretion, if teacher supervision occurs.

EC Section 8973 allows schools to offer EDK if both of the following conditions are met:

  • The kindergarten program does not exceed the length of the primary school day, and,
  • The extended-day kindergarten program takes into account ample opportunity for both active and quiet activities with an integrated, experiential, and developmentally appropriate educational program.

To establish EDK, districts should adopt a formal policy in keeping with an Early Primary Program (EC sections 8970-8974). They may also consider the implications of curriculum and instruction changes, class size reduction, facilities, parental/guardian issues, potential bargaining unit agreements, and fiscal considerations. Districts may also carefully evaluate lengthened programs to determine if children are benefiting in all domains (academic, social, emotional, and physical).

First Grade Enrollment

California law requires a child to be six years old on or before September 1 for the 2014–15 school year and each school year thereafter to be legally eligible for first grade EC Section 48010.

A child who was legally enrolled in an out-of-state kindergarten for one school year (using that state's requirements), but who does not meet California age eligibility for first grade, may, with parental consent, be enrolled by the district in first grade (EC Section 48011).

A child who was not age-eligible for kindergarten (that is, the child turned five after September 1 in the 2014-15 school year or thereafter) and who attended a California private school kindergarten for a year is viewed by the CDE as not legally enrolled in kindergarten, pursuant to EC Section 48000 requirements. Therefore, this child, upon enrollment in public school, is enrolled in kindergarten, assessed, and may (but is not required to) be immediately promoted to first grade if the child meets the following State Board of Education criteria, pursuant to Title 5, Section 200:

  • The child is at least five years of age.
  • The child has attended a public school kindergarten for a long enough time to enable school personnel to evaluate the child's ability.
  • The child is in the upper 5 percent of the child's age group in terms of general mental ability.
  • The physical development and social maturity of the child are consistent with the child's advanced mental ability.
  • The parent or guardian has filed a written statement with the district that approves placement in first grade.

A statement, signed by the district and parent/guardian, is placed in the official school records for these five-year-olds who have been advanced to first grade (EC Section 48011). This action prevents a subsequent audit exception for first grade placement of an age-ineligible student.

Considerations. Young children who are placed in kindergarten or first grade may feel stress as they try to achieve academic expectations and relate to older children. Parents/guardians and early childhood educators are the best judges regarding what may be gained by acceleration and whether it is worth the price. CDE recommends that educators and district employees explain to parents/guardians of under-age children the following:

  • The academic, social, physical, and emotional readiness required for kindergarten or first grade
  • The rigorous nature of the academic standards
  • The potential for harm to a child's disposition to learn by inappropriate acceleration, and,
  • The important concepts, skills, and knowledge imparted at each stage of a child's education, including preschool.

Often it is helpful if school or district staff members arrange for parents/guardians to read content standards for kindergarten through first grade, visit classrooms, and observe instruction. Districts may provide additional information for parents/guardian.

Transitions to Elementary School

Helping children get a good start in school is important to families, teachers, and children. Transition plans are required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Title I, Part A, Section 1114(b)(1)(G) of the Act requires Schoolwide Projects to plan children's transitions from early childhood programs to local elementary school programs. Section 1115(c)(1)(D) of the Act requires Targeted Assistance programs to assist preschool children in their transitions to elementary school. Head Start programs are also required to plan transitions and share relevant child-centered information (Section 642A of 42 U.S.C. 9837A). Students with exceptional needs are also provided appropriate transitions, pursuant to EC Section 56445.

A state law offers an additional opportunity for preschool and elementary educators to help children transition to school. The California Preschool Transfer Act of 2001 (Assembly Bill 1539, Chapter 629, Statutes of 2001) requires state-funded preschools to provide to the parent/guardian(s) developmental and any other information deemed beneficial to the child and public school teacher (see EC sections 56435, 56449, and 58930). If parents/guardians authorize it, preschools may provide this information directly to the schools.

Note: The guidance in this document is not binding on LEAs or other entities. Except for the statues, regulations, and court decisions that are referenced herein, this document is exemplary, and compliance with it is not mandatory. (See Education Code Section 33308.5.)

California Department of Education Resources
Name Contact Topic

Early Education Division

Preschool; TK and kindergarten technical assistance


Access to a wide variety of reports

School Fiscal Services Division

Average daily attendance; fiscal reports; apportionment; audits

Child Development Management and Information System (CDMIS)  
Resources Cited

CDE Press 1999. First Class: A Guide for Early Primary Education. Sacramento, CA, Department of Education.

Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs, Rev. Ed. 2009. Sue Bredekamp and Carol Copple, Eds. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Questions:   Early Education Division |
Last Reviewed: Thursday, August 24, 2023
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