Pre-kindergarten may help some families
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education bill would require all 55 counties to offer full-day pre-kindergarten programs. This would serve a number of purposes.
It would make responsible day care available to all West Virginians - from struggling families who need to be able to attend training or go to work to upper middle-class families who would simply be delighted by a nice new entitlement program.
Full-day pre-kindergarten would also prop up enrollment in a state where many counties are seeing declines in the school-age population. This in turn would work to the benefit of education unions, which lose members when staffing shrinks.
But as for educational gains, don't expect too much.
President Barack Obama said during a recent speech that "study after study" shows that public preschool produces lasting educational gains and can lead to less crime, higher wages and less dependence on government later in life.
Actually, there isn't much evidence of lasting educational gains. Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute, reviewed the results in a column for Bloomberg News.
"In the most rigorous evaluation ever conducted, Head Start doesn't show results that persist even until the third grade," he wrote.
Social scientists, he said, simply don't know how to get the results everyone wants for vulnerable children. But Murray winds up by saying:
"I am sure that Head Start buys some of them a few hours a day in a safer, warmer and more nurturing environment than the one they have at home.
"Whenever that's true, I don't care about long-term outcomes. Accomplishing just that much is a good in itself."
West Virginia legislators may well come to the same conclusion - that such gains are a fair trade for the other educational proposals in the package.