Growing number of Washington school districts offering Transitional Kindergarten program to help children with special needs


Shane Ersland


A program that helps children with special needs prepare for kindergarten is growing, following its implementation into Washington school districts last year.


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Members of the House Children, Youth & Families Committee discussed the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s (OSPI) Transitional Kindergarten (TK) program during a meeting on Tuesday. The Transitional Kindergarten program is for children below age 5 who do not have access to high-quality early learning experiences prior to kindergarten. They have been deemed by a school district through a screening process to be in need of additional preparation to be successful in kindergarten.

“As a special education expert in the space of early learning, I would love to see opportunities for children with disabilities to have access to any door they stand before,” OSPI Early Childhood Special Education Coordinator Ryan Guzman said. “And right now, within our current system, that is not happening. We don’t have those systems in place right now, yet with these efforts we’re creating ways where we can gather data to make great change within our systems into the future.”

OSPI Executive Director of Early Learning Samantha Bowen discussed grants that have been used to establish TK programs in Washington school districts. The program is funded by Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds. It supports participating districts in building high-quality, inclusionary practices within TK programs, Bowen said. 

Guzman said the TK program has grown since it was implemented into school districts in 2021-22, when 40 districts offered it. The TK program was available in 67 districts in 2022-23. A total of $21 million in ESSER funding was used to establish the programs. 

The TK program is aligned with a pyramid model called the Washington Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) to promote social/emotional competence in infants and young children.

“In 2022-23, we’ve increased our recruitment base,” Guzman said. “We’re creating not only opportunities for school districts to share with us how they’re participating within this project, but the intentional effort to focus on inclusionary practices utilizing MTSS structures.” 

As of Monday, approximately 2,000 students were enrolled in TK programs across the state, Bowen said. 

“Many of the districts participating have not yet opened their classrooms,” Bowen said. “They anticipate opening their classrooms by January 31st. So, I do anticipate that 2,000 number to increase.”