CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia has received national accolades from the independent nonprofit organization The Children’s Defense Fund as one of only 10 states and the District of Columbia to offer free full-day kindergarten to its 5-year-old residents.
“There are areas of public education in West Virginia that can benefit from improvement,” said State Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple. “Early childhood education is one area where we are overcoming societal obstacles to help children start their academic careers on a firm foundation. West Virginians should be proud to be held up as an example of doing what’s right for young children.”
The report noted that “full-day kindergarten boosts children’s cognitive learning, creative problem-solving and social competence. Yet for many young children full-day kindergarten is a missing half step in the early learning continuum. Unequal access to publicly funded full-day and full-week high quality kindergarten programs means too many young children lose a critical opportunity to develop and strengthen foundational skills necessary for success in school and lifelong learning.”
The report gives West Virginia positive marks for requiring school districts by statute to fund full-day kindergarten for all eligible students. Although West Virginia does not require kindergarten attendance, children must attend either a public or private state-approved or Montessori kindergarten program to be admitted to first grade in a public school. A basic skills test can be offered only in extreme circumstances, effectively making kindergarten attendance mandatory in West Virginia.
In addition, children who reach age 5 by Sept. 1 of the school year can attend a publicly funded kindergarten at no charge. Class size is limited to a maximum of 20 students per teacher. West Virginia also was given high marks for adopting Common Core State Standards in June 2010 and for aligning kindergarten learning expectations with elementary and secondary standards. The state also requires school districts at the request of a parent or county board to provide developmental screening for children who are under compulsory school entrance age.
West Virginia’s kindergarten students are the beneficiaries of a progressive state law that requires universal preschool be available to all of the state’s 4-year-olds by the 2012-2013 school year. The law has boosted not only preschool enrollment but also kindergarten participation.
Across the country, many children are only able to access full-day kindergarten if their parents pay tuition for the half of the day not covered by other funds or if they qualify for tuition assistance based on family income,” according to the report. “Full-day kindergarten can no longer be viewed as an optional add-on, enrichment or intervention program but must become a stable part of the early grade continuum.”
For more information, contact the WVDE Communications Office at 304-558-2699.