Pre-K for all in Oklahoma: Sooner is Better

Preschool

One of the nation’s reddest states, Oklahoma is known to many for big-time college football, oil and gas, and as home to EPA chief Scott Pruitt.

Add national pioneer in state-funded universal early education to that list.

Related: Low-income preschoolers in Grand Rapids are catching up. Will Lansing take note?

In 1998, a Democratic legislator named Joe Eddins included a measure to give all 4-year-olds access to preschool, as part of a funding bill. Today, Oklahoma is one of four states that offer universal preschool access to all 4-year-olds regardless of family income.

Florida offers universal pre-K as well, thanks to a constitutional amendment approved by Florida voters in 2002. (The other two states are West Virginia and Vermont.)

In 2016, Oklahoma ranked third in nation in the percentage of 4-year-olds in state-funded pre-K, with 74 percent enrolled, according the National Institute for Early Education Research. Michigan ranked 15th , with less than half that rate: 34 percent of 4-year-olds enrolled.

Oklahoma lawmaker Joe Eddins helped steer funding for universal pre-K into an education bill two decades ago. The investment is paying dividends for young Sooners. (Courtesy photo)

More critically, Oklahoma’s fourth grade reading scores are on par with the national average for the first time in more than a decade. It was one of 13 states to see significant improvement on fourth grade reading from 2013 to 2015. That’s significant because studies show children who are proficient readers by the end of third grade are more likely to achieve academic success.

“This isn’t a liberal issue,” Skip Steele, a Republican Tulsa City Council member, told the New York Times in 2013. “This is investing in our kids, in our future. It’s a no-brainer.”

Related: Michigan 2018 education fact guides

Researchers at Georgetown University estimate the social and educational benefits of Oklahoma’s pre-K initiative outweigh costs to that state’s budget by three-to-one. That’s because higher achievement in early grades leads to better academic outcomes later on, which in turn leads to better jobs and a lowered chance of incarceration.

Eddins, now retired from the legislature, told Bridge there are still forces who argue the program is too costly, at about $140 million a year. But he said he thinks it’s there to stay.

“The people that opposed it in the past still oppose it. If you are against spending more money on children, you are still against it. But if you are the mother of a 4-year-old child, you are 100 percent for it,” he said.

Eddins said there was vague talk during Oklahoma’s recently ended teacher walkout that money to fund pay raises could be found by eliminating the free pre-K program. That went nowhere.

“I think it’s permanent. Once you get a program in place that does what it says it will do, it’s hard to take the money away from it,” he said.

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Comments

Michelle R Ruess
Tue, 04/24/2018 - 9:39am

For details about state-funded pre-K programs check out The State of Preschool 2017 from the National Institute for Early Education Research at http://www.nieer.org

David Zeman
Tue, 04/24/2018 - 10:43am

Thanks for the tip, Michelle! 

David Zeman, Bridge Editor 

 

Mike Radke
Tue, 04/24/2018 - 1:17pm

Grand Rapids Public Schools are making amazing progress. This program started by previous superintendent Taylor is one setting the foundation. Current superintendent Therese Weatherall Neal, is doing fantastic work building on this foundation with a strong leadership team in Central office and each school, improved instructional program implementation, outstanding parent engagement and support programs, building great relationships with community and business partners and accountability for developmentally appropriate high expectations. GR is clearly a district to emulate for Michigan's large and small districts.

Lee
Tue, 04/24/2018 - 4:03pm

It's unfortunate that a lot of significant information is missing from this article. It says, "Oklahoma lawmaker Joe Eddins helped steer funding for universal pre-K into an education bill two decades ago. " But the article also says, "More critically, Oklahoma’s fourth grade reading scores are on par with the national average for the first time in more than a decade. " If this program is so effective, why did Oklahoma's fourth grade reading scores lag for the previous decade? And, "It was one of 13 states to see significant improvement on fourth grade reading from 2013 to 2015. " I thought the program had been in effect for two decades.

And the article says,":In 2016, Oklahoma ranked third in nation in the percentage of 4-year-olds in state-funded pre-K, with 74 percent enrolled, according the National Institute for Early Education Research. Michigan ranked 15th , with less than half that rate: 34 percent of 4-year-olds enrolled." Why not include a table listing all the states' percentages of four year old enrolled in state-funded pre-K, with their fourth grade reading scores? See if there is any relationship, rather than engage in cherry picking?

The article has far too much information about good intentions and inputs, and far too little information about results..

R.L.
Tue, 04/24/2018 - 10:37pm

You can never start to early. With the absence of parents society must step up and help the kids who don't have the help and guidance they need. R.L.

Ted Roelofs
Wed, 04/25/2018 - 4:04pm

Lee - the story on Oklahoma, and the larger one on a pre-K program in Grand Rapids, listed links between quality pre-K programs and success in school and in later general achievement. Oklahoma did show improvement in reading scores in recent years, though stating a cause-and-effect relationship is always tricky because there are so many factors that affect achievement. The larger point - for the disadvantaged, particularly, quality preschool is an effective way, along with quality teachers, to try and level the playing field. As for listing all 50 states in percentage of pre-K state-funded enrollment, there's only so much data one story can hold. Thanks for your interest.

Byron Schlomach
Mon, 04/30/2018 - 1:55pm

This article is completely disingenuous considering that the 2017 NAEP results are in and the seeming 4th-grade gains in Oklahoma relative to the nation from 2015 have completely disappeared. Both the national and Oklahoma averages in 4th grade reading are exactly the same as 2013. And in math, Oklahoma's score is 3 points lower than the national, same as in 2013.

Joe Eddins
Tue, 06/12/2018 - 9:52pm

Ted, you did a great job. Joe Eddins