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A good start on education?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin did something you don't hear every day. He appealed directly to parents on the subject of education in his Wednesday speech.

"I want to speak to all parents in West Virginia tonight," he said. "You are the greatest cheerleader your child will ever have. Please take their education seriously and help them realize their potential -- there is no greater force for educational achievement than a dedicated parent."

Could this be a new refrain, to be echoed and reinforced at every opportunity?

I'm encouraged because the governor did not stop there, at the easier-said-than-done stage. Among the governor's priorities, he listed things that actually help parents give children the kind of start in life that leads to better achievement and success in school years down the road:

• He is interested in defining, at least, the components and costs of a good "birth to 5" program. Efforts that reach parents of newborns through the first few years of life have proven effective at all kinds of things -- better school readiness, improved discipline, catching developmental problems earlier. Parents learn and provide activities and routines that stimulate young brains and help children be ready for school, both academically and socially.

• He proposes legislation to offer full-day preschool for all 4-year-olds within three years. Counties already offer half-day preschool for 4-year-olds, but good full-day programs have been shown to offer greater long-term benefits.

• Despite falling federal funds, Gov. Tomblin wants to keep a child care subsidy for low-income parents, and proposes a $17 million supplemental appropriation for it. This not only helps keep people working and off welfare, but also (hopefully) provides children in struggling families exposure to the stimulating play and opportunities found in child care settings.

Of course, I haven't even mentioned the substantial changes Gov. Tomblin outlined for schools themselves. That's because these other issues, that take place years before a child even reaches school, have so much more potential to make a difference in the lives and educational success of future citizens who are now in diapers.

If more children come to school ready and willing to take advantage of what school has to offer, with parents who are eager and engaged in their children's education, the culture of even the most difficult schools will change, whether anything else changes or not.

The governor, who credited his own parents for his being a first-generation college graduate in his family, seems to understand the connection.

It promises to be an interesting spring.Miller, the Gazette's editorial page editor, can be reached at dawn@wvgazette.com.


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