Children who attend school at ages 3 and 4 have an enormous head start over those who must wait until kindergarten or first grade. State and local education officials in West Virginia recognized that years ago and established an excellent "pre-K" school program.
So good is the Mountain State's program that the National Institute for Early Education Research cites it as one of the nation's best.
Ohio, unfortunately, lags far behind most states in emphasis on pre-K education. In West Virginia, 58 percent of 4-year-olds and 9 percent of 3 year-olds are enrolled in pre-K programs. The numbers for Ohio are just 2 percent and 1 percent, respectively.
Even that is a strain, as per-pupil spending for pre-K illustrates. It is $5,605 a year per student in West Virginia, just $3,942 in Ohio.
West Virginia educators should keep up the good work. Resources devoted to pre-K will be repaid handsomely once children taking advantage of it move on to higher grades in school.
Meanwhile, it is not difficult to understand why Ohio lags so far behind. The problem is money, not concern about giving children a head start in school.
State financing of education has been stable in West Virginia for many years. But Ohio's budget crunch, from which state government is just now emerging, has been hard on public education.
Buckeye State school districts have had state support reduced. It has been impossible for some - including several in East Ohio - to maintain the status quo, much less to establish new programs such as pre-K.
As Ohio's economy and state budget improve, a priority for educators and policy-makers should be to establish and/or expand school opportunities for 3- and 4-year-olds. Otherwise, as other states continue to emphasize such programs, Ohio children may be left behind.