Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children
Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

In calling for universal access to preschool in his State of the Union address, President Obama gave a shout-out to Oklahoma as a state that has made it “a priority to educate our youngest children.” The Sooner State established a preschool program for all 4-year-olds in 1998. Today, 40,000 Oklahoma children attend its state-funded pre-kindergarten.

“Many Oklahoma children now arrive in elementary school so well prepared that some districts have overhauled their kindergarten curricula,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Like Oklahoma, the federal plan that President Obama has proposed includes quality standards such as curriculum and well-trained teachers paid at a salary comparable to K-12 teachers.

“This is not a one-size-fits-all,” Roberto Rodriguez, special assistant to the president for education policy, tells the Journal. “But we want to ensure the dollars invested at the federal level are invested in high-quality programs.”

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, three quarters of the country’s four million 4-year-olds attend pre-kindergarten, in either a public or private setting. Only 30% are in high-quality program, the Obama administration says.

Implementing the broad pre-k program in Oklahoma has presented some challenges, the Journal reports. Some Oklahoma districts have opened pre-kindergarten classrooms in shopping centers, nursing homes and community-based early education centers, for instance, and some have delayed opening classrooms until a qualified teacher could be hired. The popular program has a wait list of 5,000 children.

One mother, Rachel Moore, tells the Journal she was “stunned” by her young son’s growth in pre-kindergarten. “I was really worried about him going into kindergarten,” she tells the newspaper. “I feel confident he’ll be ready.”

(For more information on Oklahoma’s universal pre-kindergarten program and the unconventional way it was established, read How Did OK Adopt Universal Pre-Kindergarten? And Universal Pre-K is OK in Oklahoma.)