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West Virginia’s Early Learning Programs Rank Among Top In The Nation

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By Tyler Barker, WOAY TV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia’s Universal Pre-K Program once again ranks among the top in the nation, according to the 2018 Yearbook released today by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). NIEER recognizes West Virginia as a leader in pre-K access for 4-year-olds and quality standards.

The State of Preschool Yearbook is the only national report on state-funded preschool programs with detailed information on enrollment, funding, teacher qualifications and other policies related to quality. West Virginia continues to rank among the top in the nation, ranking sixth in the nation for 4-year-old access and meets nine of ten benchmarks.

“The work to support the success of all West Virginia students starts with policies that impact our youngest learners,” said West Virginia Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Steven Paine. “I am proud that West Virginia has been a leader in universal pre-K because we know that children who attend high-quality pre-K programs enter kindergarten with better reading skills, richer vocabularies and stronger basic math skills than those who do not attend preschool.”

Legislation was passed in 2017 to change the 4-year-old eligibility cut-off date for West Virginia’s Universal Pre-K program from September 1 to July 1, effective with the 2018-19 school year. Additionally, West Virginia’s Universal Access to a Quality Early Education System was updated to include requirements that prohibit or severely limit the use of suspension in pre-K due to a child’s behavior. Requirements include temporary suspension only as a last resort in extraordinary circumstances and program provisions for developing a multidisciplinary team, including efforts to engage parents and appropriate community resources, and a written plan to support children with behavioral challenges.

West Virginia has focused on improving program quality. As of July 2013, all new lead teachers in nonpublic settings are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood or a related field and, as of July 2014, all assistant teachers are required to hold the Early Childhood Classroom Assistant Teacher Authorization. West Virginia also increased instructional days per year and hours per week to at least 1,500 minutes of instruction per week and 48,000 minutes (800 hours) of instruction per year. Programs must operate no fewer than four days per week to meet annual and weekly operational requirements.

West Virginia has been recognized nationally for a progressive state law that required universal preschool to all of the state’s 4-year-olds. The West Virginia Universal Pre-K System provides prekindergarten programs in all 55 counties in the state. Public schools receive West Virginia Universal Pre-K funding directly, and a majority of programs partner with child care centers, private programs or Head Start agencies in order to meet demand. West Virginia also has been singled out for providing better access to preschool programs and dedicating more dollars to the effort than most other states in the country.

The West Virginia Universal Pre-K Program boasts a 76 percent participation rate based on 4-year-olds who go on to attend the state’s kindergarten program as 5-year-olds. West Virginia Universal Pre-K enrolled more than 16,400 children, which census data notes is 67 percent of 4-year olds in the state. Nationwide, state-funded preschool program enrollment continues to grow, serving more than 1.6 million children, however, just a third of 4-year-olds enrolled in public preschool programs nationwide.

“We are proud to provide strong prekindergarten programs in all 55 counties,” said Monica DellaMea, Executive Director of the Office of Early & Elementary Learning. “Over the years, West Virginia has increased the duration of the preschool program as well as number of instructional days to help ensure that students in the Mountain State are receiving the best start possible.”

The full NIEER report can be accessed by visiting http://nieer.org.

For more information on West Virginia’s Universal Pre-K program, visit https://wvde.us/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/2018EEL-annualreport.pdf.