April 20, 2021

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia’s Universal Pre-K Program once again ranks among the top in the nation, according to the 2020 Yearbook released today by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). NIEER recognizes West Virginia as a leader in pre-k access for 4-year-olds and quality standards.

The State of Preschool Yearbook is the only national report on state-funded preschool programs with detailed information on enrollment, funding, teacher qualifications and other policies related to quality. West Virginia continues to rank among the top in the nation, ranking sixth in the nation for 4-year-old access and meeting nine of ten benchmarks.

State Superintendent of Schools W. Clayton Burch served as a panelist for the NIEER 2020 State of Preschool Yearbook release event on April 15, 2021, and shared information about West Virginia’s demonstrated excellence in pre-k education.

“We know the pandemic has resulted in setbacks for our youngest learners, but despite this, we have remained a leader in Universal Pre-K education in the U.S.,” said Superintendent Burch. “We understand the importance of improving enrollment, quality standards and funding to support our high-quality preschool education, and we are committed to maintaining our reputation as a state that works tirelessly to support the success of all West Virginia students.”

West Virginia has focused on improving program quality. As of July 2013, all new lead teachers in non-public school settings are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood or a related field and, as of July 2014, all assistant teachers are required to hold the Early Childhood Classroom Assistant Teacher Authorization. West Virginia also increased instructional days per year and hours per week to at least 1,500 minutes of instruction per week and 48,000 minutes (800 hours) of instruction per year. Programs must operate no fewer than four days per week to meet annual and weekly operational requirements.

West Virginia has been recognized nationally for a progressive state law that required universal preschool to all of the state’s 4-year-olds. The West Virginia Universal Pre-K System provides pre-k programs in all 55 counties in the state. Public schools receive West Virginia Universal Pre-K funding directly, and a majority of programs partner with childcare centers, private programs or Head Start agencies in order to meet demand. During the 2019-2020 school year, the collaboration rate was 82 percent. West Virginia also has been identified for providing better access to preschool programs and dedicating more dollars to the effort than most other states in the country.  According to the 2020 Yearbook, West Virginia is only one of five states whose current funding supports a full-day, high-quality program.

The West Virginia Universal Pre-K Program boasts a 76 percent participation rate based on 4-year-olds who go on to attend the state’s kindergarten program as 5-year-olds. West Virginia Universal Pre-K enrolled more than 15,000 children, which census data notes is 68 percent of 4-year-olds in the state. Nationwide, state-funded preschool program enrollment continues to grow, serving more than 1.6 million children; however, just a third of 4-year-olds are enrolled in public preschool programs nationwide.

“We are proud to continue our focus on school readiness by providing a nationally recognized, high-quality Universal Pre-K program,” said Dr. Monica DellaMea, Director of Early & Elementary Learning. “As a state, we have worked for decades to help ensure the success and well-being of all young learners as they enter school for the first time.”

The full NIEER report can be accessed by visiting the NIEER website with West Virginia’s state profile detailed on pages 177-178.

For more information on West Virginia’s Universal Pre-K program, visit https://wvde.us/early-and-elementary-learning/wv-early-learning-spotlight/.

For media inquiries, contact Christy Day, West Virginia Department of Education Office of Communications, at 304-558-2699 or Christy.Day@k12.wv.us.

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The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) conducts academic research to inform policy supporting high-quality, early education for all young children. Such education promotes the physical, cognitive and social development needed for children to succeed in school and later life. NIEER provides independent, research-based analysis and technical assistance to policymakers, journalists, researchers, and educators.