CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kids would have to be older to enter pre-school programs in a bill that passed the state Senate Thursday.

Currently, the law requires a child to turn four by Sept. 1 for pre-school programs and age five by Sept. 1 for kindergarten. The legislation changes that date from Sept. 1 to July 1, meaning children turning four in that two-month period would have to wait an extra year to enter the programs.

Supporters of the bill said in many cases, the children entering the early education programs are not prepared for the programs. Among the preparations a lack of potty training and other social skills.

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Senator John Unger (D-Berkeley)

Although the bill passed, it drew fire from Senator John Unger (D-Berkeley) who opposed the measure.

“The excuse saying a child comes into early childhood education is not ready because they don’t know how to go to the bathroom or do certain things, that child needs to be in early childhood education,” said Unger on the Senate floor. “That child needs to be taught this.”

Unger challenged Senate colleagues co consider the ramifications of merely changing the day by a few months.

“We all had opportunities in our lives and some of these children don’t,” the Senator explained. “If we don’t invest in these young people now at that age, when they are developing the fastest from birth to five years old, we’re going to be investing a whole lot later to offset what we could have prevented on the front end.”

Unger added children in West Virginia have good services from birth to 3 but there’s a gap between age 3 and entry into pre-school programs. Unger fears the change would widen the gap.

Unger’s remarks did little to dissuade Senators from the legislation. The bill passed on a vote of 31-2 and was sent to the House of Delegates.

The proposed change would take effect in the 2019-2020 school year.

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