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W.Va. fourth in U.S. for pre-K education

It’s the kind of educational ranking West Virginia officials actually don’t mind reading about or talking about.

That’s because the Mountain State has just placed near the top in the nation, in being able to provide pre-kindergarten education to its youngest students.

West Virginia ranked fourth in those offerings to 4-year-olds, according to a recent study by the National Institute for Early Education Research, which is housed at Rutgers University.

The District of Columbia, Florida and Oklahoma were first, second and third in the study, which was released last week.

Utah was last on the list, among the 45 states currently offering pre-K.

As West Virginia continues to play academic catchup from the pandemic, such early education, state Superintendent Michelle Blatt said, couldn’t be more critical.

“West Virginia continues to be a leader in early childhood education, creating foundational learning opportunities for our most-precious resources,” she said.

“Early learning has a vast impact on the growth and development of our children and the future of the Mountain State,” the superintendent continued.

“Access to pre-K education provides families and students an introduction to lifelong learning.”

West Virginia served 67% of the state’s 4-year-olds and 7% of 3-year-olds in state-funded preschool, increasing this year’s total enrollment to 13,731, according to the report.

Spending increased by $4,097,211, totaling $96,556,175, the report further chronicles — with an additional $289,520 in federal COVID-19 relief funds helping to support the program.

Per-child spending equaled $7,053 in 2022-23, a slight increase from the previous year, the report notes.

Monongalia County’s school district, in turn, is shorn up by its proximity to WVU, the state’s flagship university — along with the academic generosity of local voters, who regularly pass an excess levy for education at the polls come election time.

Said levy brings $30 million or better to the district, enabling the district to offer beginning Mandarin in elementary school, plus extensive Advanced Placement courses for the upper grades.

The Mountain State, meanwhile, is bolstered by Head Start, the federal program introduced in 1964 to help economically disadvantaged families.

Debbie Jones, who directs Head Start and Early Head Start programs for Monongalia County Schools, returned from a Tennessee vacation last summer to learn her office had just received $1.6 million in federal funding to bolster the operation.

“We’ll definitely put it to good use,” Jones said of the outlay, which came from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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