The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 2, 2013

West Virginia receives high marks for pre-kindergarten support

West Virginia has received high marks from the National Institute for Early Education Research’s “State of Preschool 2012.”

At a time when preschool funding has stalled in many states, West Virginia is being recognized for defying the trend and increasing pre-K resources.

The report shows West Virginia increased per pupil pre-K spending by $10 million in 2011-2012 to about $6,000 per child. Across the country, state funding for pre-K decreased by more than half a billion dollars in 2011-2012 to a national average of $3,841 — well below the inflation-adjusted national average of $5,020 in 2001-2002.

“We are pleased to see West Virginia has stayed on schedule as it marches toward its goal of universal access to pre-K,” National Institute for Early Education Research Director Steve Barnett said. “It serves as a model for other states.”

The report also noted that West Virginia maintained its ranking of eighth in the nation for resources dedicated to state pre-K. The state continues to rank fifth in the nation for access to pre-K, serving more than 60 percent of 4-year-olds.

In addition, the state’s pre-K program meets eight of the organization’s 10 benchmarks for quality standards — a big improvement over a decade ago when it met five.

The state is well on its way to meeting all 10 benchmarks, reported the West Virginia Department of Education. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the West Virginia Legislature this year supported legislation that requires pre-K aides to attain higher levels of education. This legislation will take effect in July 2014. Steps also have been taken to expand pre-K opportunities for 4-year-olds by increasing attendance from half-days to full days. The legislation will take effect in the 2016-2017 school year.

“Our governor and Legislature should be given high praise for making early education a priority,” said Lloyd Jackson, a member of the West Virginia Board of Education. “It is well established that our youngest learners will succeed in being college, career and citizenship ready if provided access to a high quality early childhood system.”

West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Jim Phares said the 2012 report solidifies that West Virginia is moving in the right direction with its Universal Pre-K program. Across the state, about 16,000 children are enrolled in about 1,050 West Virginia Universal Pre-K classrooms.

“Providing high quality pre-K and rich educational opportunities to all children is paramount to their future success,” Phares said. “Kindergarten teachers will tell you children who attend high quality preschool enter kindergarten ready to learn with skills that children who don’t attend pre-K have yet to develop. It kick-starts learning.”

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