CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia is among states that are spending more to educate its youngest citizens, according to a state-by-state funding report by Pre-K Now, a campaign of the Pew Center on the States.
“Votes Count: Legislative Action on Pre-K Fiscal Year 2010,” shows that West Virginia’s move to include preschool in its school funding formula translates into an increase of $5.9 million to a total of $75 million in fiscal year 2010. The growth comes despite a statewide 4.5 percent budget cut. Only West Virginia, Iowa and Washington, D.C., have taken such a bold step to fund its preschool programs through funding formulas, the report shows.
Across the country, states have dedicated a total of $52.3 million to early education programs, which research has found translates into gains in math, literacy and language skills and reduces grade retention. States like West Virginia that include pre-K in their school funding formula allocate per-child funding for 4 year olds based on enrollment, just as they do for K-12 schools.
“The legislature’s support for continued investment shows that West Virginia’s leaders understand the importance of investing in programs with proven results even during tough economic times,” said state Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine.
West Virginia passed legislation that requires universal preschool be available to all of the state’s 4-year-olds by the 2012-2013 school year. Half of the programs will be in collaborative settings with Head Start, child care and private programs. About 15,500 preschoolers are expected to benefit from West Virginia’s universal pre-kindergarten program in 2010, an increase of 1,770 children.
“When you consider the dire economic context, this is a victory for more than one million families with children enrolled in pre-K,” said Marci Young, project director of Pre-K Now. “In most states, lawmakers recognize that quality Pre-K should be a core priority because it provides lasting benefits for children and strong economic returns on investment for taxpayers.”
The annual Pew report evaluates state budgets to determine which legislatures count voluntary, high-quality pre-k among their top education reform strategies. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia chose to increase or hold steady funding for pre-kindergarten education, according to the report. Legislators added dollars for existing pre-k initiatives in 13 states and approved new programs in two others, creating a modest national net gain in funding despite cuts in 10 states.
Pre-K is one of the most well-researched public education strategies of the last 40 years. The vast body of evidence shows that quality early learning helps children succeed in school and in life, and results in savings to states for every dollar invested. Children who complete quality pre-k programs are more academically and socially prepared when they enter school, less likely to be held back or need special education services, and more likely to complete high school and contribute to their community as adults.
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