21CSLA Research Brief: The Impact of Teacher Shortage on Universal Transitional Kindergarten: Implications for Progress


Recent news highlights the implications of a nationwide teacher shortage in public schools. Yet the teacher shortage and high turnover in K–12 have been long-standing challenges. Additionally, public education was highly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, causing widespread staff, teacher, and administrator attrition. This particular pandemic-related challenge is layered on top of low pay and high stress, which are two primary reasons for teacher and staff shortages overall. In response, some states have implemented strategies to help with teacher and staff shortages while attempting to retain quality standards for teachers. Some of these strategies have centered on increasing pay and offering more training for individuals who wish to become teachers. For example, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing is spearheading a new program to expand credential opportunities and staffing for Universal Transitional Kindergarten (UTK). Set to launch in fall 2023, the PK–3 Early Childhood Education (ECE) Specialist Instruction Credential program will allow childhood educators to use their degrees and experiences toward their credentialing.

In California, children who turn five years old by September 1 are eligible to attend kindergarten. Children younger than the kindergarten age attend pre-kindergarten (preschool) in a variety of settings. Transitional kindergarten (TK) is a program started in California in 2012 for children turning five years old between September 2 and December 2. UTK is a program to offer the TK program to all four-year-olds starting in 2023. For this brief, we reviewed research on teacher and staff shortages at the national level and in California. While most of the research reviewed focuses on general implications of teacher and staff shortages in public schools, we paid particular attention to the impacts of implementation of UTK in California that are likely to pose challenges to pursuing equity in the educator pipeline. Furthermore, TK student enrollment is projected to increase by more than 300,000 by 2025, requiring an additional 15,000 teachers and 20,000 assistant teachers. The following key findings stem from our literature review and may inform educational leaders’ practices as they implement TK programs.

Marisol Sánchez Castillo
Hua Luo
Joy Esboldt
Moonhawk Kim
Publication date: 
June 1, 2023
Publication type: