Oklahoma is undoubtedly a nationally recognized leader in early childhood education. Every 4-year-old in in the state has access to a year of high-quality prekindergarten. Meanwhile, many three-year olds from low-income families get access to full-day, year-round preschool, and 3,681 children under the age of three are enrolled in Early Head Start programs. The state’s Early Childhood Four-Year-Old Program, which started in 1980, is now available in 99 percent of school districts, with 74 percent of four year olds enrolled in a state program and enrollment in the program increasingly steadily each year. High quality early childhood education remains a top priority in Oklahoma, with its state program achieving nine quality benchmarks in early childhood education established by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). Meanwhile, independent analyses of the program led by researchers from Georgetown University show that that Oklahoma’s universal program improves overall cognitive, academic, and emotional skills. The average annual cost of center-based infant care in the state is $7,480.
- What state leaders are saying: According to the New York Times, Skip Steele, a Republican Tulsa City Council member recently said, “This [early childhood education] isn’t a liberal issue. This is investing in our kids, in our future. It’s a no-brainer.”
- What’s happening in the legislature: According to NIEER, Oklahoma’s state leaders are currently working to expand early childhood services to three year olds through the Early Childhood Expansion Project which served 314 children from birth-age 4 in 2011. In addition, the Pilot Early Childhood Program started in 2006 was funded in the 2010-2011 school year. This program delivered year-round child care to disadvantaged children and families, using annual contracts with the Community Action Project of Tulsa and served 2,642 children from birth through age 3.
- Funding increases and additional support: Oklahoma spends nearly $145 million a year on its state early childhood programs. The state legislature recently approved more than $2 million in state funds to provide additional services for children and families participating in federal Head Start Programs.