Making Pre-K less expensive

Early childhood education is an important, perhaps critical, tool for ensuring all children learn what they need in an increasingly competitive world. It certainly is an invaluable way of closing the gap between boys and girls who benefit from homes where education is promoted before kindergarten and those where that often does not occur.

West Virginia legislators were right to mandate that every county in the state provide extensive school opportunities for 4-year-olds whose parents want to the enroll them. That happened last year, at the request of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

Like so much worthwhile legislation, the new law needs some fine-tuning, however. Specifically, the requirement that school districts provide pre-kindergarten classes five days a week should be amended.

Only about 20 percent of the 55 counties offer five-day pre-kindergarten classes now. There is a reason for that: money. A substantial expenditure is required to add five-day classes for 4-year-olds, on top of the same schedule for kindergarten through 12th grade.

A bill introduced in the Legislature this year would replace the five-day requirement. Instead, school districts would have to offer at least 1,500 minutes of instruction per week for pre-kindergarten students.

The little ones would not miss any classroom exposure because the 1,500 minutes works out to the same amount of time current law specifies for five days.

As lawmakers have been told, the change would allow counties to save a few dollars by scheduling pre-kindergarten classes for four instead of five days a week.

Especially now, with state funding cutbacks affecting every school system adversely, saving money is important. Legislators should make the change to ensure West Virginia 4-year-olds can go to school – and school systems can afford it.