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Amid preschool seats shortage, LAUSD has hundreds of openings

Ashley Vargas, who is enrolled in the transitional kindergarten (TK) program, plays tether ball during recess at the Martha Escutia Primary Center. TK is meant to bridge the academic gap between preschool and kindergarten.
Mae Ryan/KPCC
Ashley Vargas, who is enrolled in the transitional kindergarten (TK) program, plays tether ball during recess at the Martha Escutia Primary Center. TK is meant to bridge the academic gap between preschool and kindergarten.

Even as nearly hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles County preschoolers miss out on formal early education because there are simply not enough licensed seats, Los Angeles Unified school officials said this week that its preschools are not at full capacity.

There are 400 unfilled Early Transitional Kindergarten (ETK) spots at district elementary schools, said Dean Tagawa, head of early education for LAUSD. And, Tagawa said, the district's other preschool programs also have spots that have gone unfilled this year.

The gaps exist because -- although not enough seats exist for all of L.A.'s young students -- even families who could access seats sometimes don't because they don't hear about the programs.

The ETK program is an extension of California’s newest grade, Transitional Kindergarten, and it allows for school districts to accept any 4-year-old into the program. The program at LAUSD launched last summer, when access to parents and families is much more limited.

“Because of the way ETK came about this year, we had very limited time to message [the availability of open seats]," Tagawa told a meeting of the district's Early Education subcommittee at a meeting Tuesday. "But we’ll do a much better job with that this upcoming year.” 

For the current school year, LAUSD created 2,800 ETK seats, of which 400 remain open, Tagawa said. He told the district's early education subcommittee that the district’s other preschool programs also have unfilled slots.

“We’re at about 96.4 percent occupancy in our early education centers and about 95 percent in our state preschool programs, so there are seats available both in ETK but also in our early ed centers,” he said.  

Unlike the newly created ETK seats, these preschool programs have existed for years, which Tagawa said means that the district needs to do a better job spreading the word about the programs to parents. “That message needs to go out [to] parents [that] it's ok to enroll your children and it's a good opportunity to  get them started in school programs,” Tagawa said.

As KPCC has reported here and here, the huge gulf between the number of children under 5 in LA County and the number of licensed childcare seats means the majority miss out.

According to data from the Advancement Project, only 41 percent of all preschool aged children have access to a licensed early education seat countywide. This means about 230,000 children of preschool age don’t have access to a seat, said Chris Ringewald of the Advancement Project.

Yet according to the data, not all parts of the county have such a dearth of early education seats. The LAUSD school with the highest percentage of unfilled seats is in West Hollywood. In this area upwards of 70 percent of children under 5 can access childcare or preschool. Laurel Early Education Center is only at 62 percent capacity with room for 36 more children.

According to Monica Carazo, LAUSD spokesperson, parents can still enroll a child in one of the district’s preschools.

Here are the centers with the most openings:

Laurel Early Education Center
Dacotah Early Education Center
Westminster Early Education Center
Holmes Avenue Early Education Center
Logan Early Education Center
Gledhill Early Education Center
Lemay Early Education Center
Trinity Street Early Education Center
Pacoima Early Education Center
Sylvan Park Early Education Center
Wilmington Park Early Education Center
Glassell Park Early Education Center
Albion Early Education Center
Haddon Early Education Center
Normont Early Education Center
Pinewood Early Education Center
Murchison Early Education Center
Dayton Heights Early Education Center
Toluca Lake Early Education Center
Vaughn Street Early Education Center
Shenandoah Early Education Center
Marina Early Education Center
37th St. Early Education Center
28th St. Early Education Center