Chris Schulz Published

State Pre-K Program Continues To Rank High Nationally

A group of young children, many with a hand raised, sit on the floor in front of a smiling, blonde woman wearing a light green sweater and holding a picture book in front of the group. The scene is set in front of shelves of books in the background.iStockphoto

West Virginia once again scored well in the latest State of Pre-K report from the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. The institute, known as NIEER, has been advocating for universal pre-K and grading each state’s existing program for 20 years. 

West Virginia moved from 6th to 4th in the nation for preschool enrollment for 4-year-olds, serving 67 percent of this age group in the state, nearly double the national enrollment.

Steven Barnett, founder and senior co-director of NIERR, said enrollment is up nationwide.

“In nearly every state, enrollment was also up over the previous year,” he said. “‘Enrollment increased by 7 percent year over year. The percentage of 4-year-olds is 35 percent, 3-year-olds – 7 percent enrolled. In terms of the percentage served, these are new records.”

The state’s 3-year-old enrollment matched the national average, at 7 percent and brought the year’s total enrollment to 13,731.

“West Virginia continues to be a leader in early childhood education, creating foundational learning opportunities for our most precious resources,” said Michele Blatt, state superintendent of schools. “Early learning has a vast impact on the growth and development of our children and the future of the Mountain State. Access to pre-K education provides families and students an introduction to lifelong learning.”

The state’s program once again met nine out of 10 NIERR benchmark standards criteria, which include student to teacher ratios, teacher specialized training and maximum class sizes. The only missed benchmark for West Virginia is staff professional development for teachers and assistants.

Allison Friedman-Krauss, assistant research professor at NIEER, said training and support is more important than ever amidst a growing teacher shortage.

“We’ve seen again this year, widespread reports of teacher shortages,” she said. “To date, the most frequent response to teacher shortages has been to allow less qualified teachers in the classroom.”

State spending on pre-K increased by $4 million, and per child spending equaled $7,053 in 2022-2023, a slight increase from the previous year.