West Virginia Executive Summer 2014 - Page 44

Early Care and Education West Virginia has cause for concern when it comes to the well-being of young children. It ranks among the worst states in teen pregnancy and low birth weight. One in four pregnant women smokes, and one in five uses drugs or alcohol. Nearly half of the state’s children live in low-income families who struggle to make ends meet. By the fourth grade, only one in four children is proficient in reading. Longitudinal studies confirm that high-quality early care and education can reverse these negative trends, giving children a better start and the state a better future. Researchers agree that good prenatal care, home visiting services, preschool programs and early intervention for children with developmental delays are effective ways to improve outcomes for young children. Better child outcomes lead to fewer costs for remedial programs, higher college-going rates and a stronger work force. It Takes a Community The West Virginia Universal Pre-K for 4 year olds is a nationally-recognized model of high-quality early education. All 4 year olds are eligible for the program, which offers age-appropriate activities and instruction by certified teachers. Pre-K classrooms can be located in public schools, private preschools, child care centers and Head Start programs. Over the past decade, enrollment has grown to 70 percent of the state’s 4 year olds, one of the highest rates in the nation. The program’s success is due, in large part, to a visionary law passed by the West Virginia Legislature in 2002, with stable funding provided by the school aid formula. Equally important to Pre-K’s success has been the expertise and collaboration of the child care centers, Head Start programs and public schools that operate local pre-K programs. “We have a pre-K model that says we’re going to work toward quality, and we’re going to do it together,” says Clayton Burch, executive director of the Office of Early Learning in the West Virginia Department of Education. “We’re going to honor existing programs. We’re going to honor where children and families are in the community. We’re going to honor the current work force, and through this process, we are going to keep our eyes on the prize.” While West Virginia may not be where it needs to be, Marlene Midget, executive director of Northern Panhandle Head Start, says the state is in a better place than it was before these efforts began. “We’ve spent 12 years educating people and getting people on board,” she says. “There’s no way you can have a quality early childhood pre-K program without everyone at the table.” When Charlene Zirk, executive director of the Hardy County Child Care Center, began her career in child care 28 years ago, she recalls that it was just about teaching children their colors and their ABCs. “Most centers today provide a very challenging curriculum for all of their children,” she says. “I feel that’s extremely important, as well as the development of children’s social and emotional skills.” Early Investments, Higher Returns Leading economists join educators in extolling the benefits of high-quality early learning. Their studies have found significant returns on investments in early childhood due to reduced THE 10 STAGES OF HEALTH CARE REFORM: 1. DENIAL 2. CONFUSION 3. FEAR 4. ANGER 5. SORROW 6. MORE CONFUSION 7. PROCRASTINATION 8. DESPERATION 9. PANIC 10. PREPARATION START HERE PrepareForReform.com and you can skip stages 1 thru 9. We have the plans you need to get reform-ready now. Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield West Virginia is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. 44 west virginia executive