CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool classes in West Virginia is the fifth highest in the country, according to a national study.

The National Institute for Early Education Research study gave the state high marks overall. The study found that about 61 percent of 4-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded preschool in 2011-12, up from 58 percent the year before.

According to the state, about 16,000 West Virginia children are enrolled in pre-K programs. Legislation passed this year requires every West Virginia county to offer full-day preschool for 4-year-olds by fall 2016.

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

The report found West Virginia increased preschool state funding in 2011-12 to about $6,000 per child, compared with about $5,600 the year before. Both figures ranked eighth among the states. The national average is about $3,800.

“Providing high quality pre-K and rich educational opportunities to all children is paramount to their future success,” said state schools Superintendent James Phares. “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.”

West Virginia’s pre-K program continued to meet eight of 10 quality standard benchmarks. The unmet benchmarks involve degree requirements for teachers and their assistants.

The Legislature this year passed a bill effective in July 2014 to require preschool aides to attain higher levels of education. It exempts current aides who will retire by mid-2020.

“Our governor and Legislature should be given high praise for making early education a priority,” said Lloyd Jackson, a state Board of Education member and former state senator. “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.”

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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