“Oklahomans have embraced free, universal early education — and it’s working,” the title of a story from the Hechinger Report declares. (Hechinger is an independent, nonprofit, education news outlet.)
Posted on PBS NewsHour’s website, the story focuses on Clinton, Okla.
“One of the biggest employers in this hardscrabble working class town in western Oklahoma is the Bar-S Foods Company meat packing plant, where many of the city’s 9,500 residents work. Clinton also boasts a Route 66 Museum, a somewhat epic indoor waterpark, and free universal preschool for every 4-year-old in town.
“Ninety-one percent of the town’s 170 4-year-olds enroll in a public program annually, said Tyler Bridges, the assistant school superintendent. About 140 attend the state-supported district preschool while another 15 or so attend the local Cheyenne-Arapahoe Head Start program.”
Clinton is one example of a statewide effort.
“Since 1998, Oklahoma has had fully funded preschool for every child, regardless of family income. As long as a child is 4 by Sept. 1, he or she is qualified to attend school for a year prior to entering kindergarten. Seventy-six percent of the state’s 4-year-olds were enrolled in 2014, a total of 40,823 children and one of the country’s highest enrollment percentages, according to the latest annual State of Preschool report by the National Institute for Early Education Research.”
The return on this investment has been substantial.
“Investing in preschool at the same level as K-12 has paid off here. Oklahoma was one of only 13 states to see significant growth on fourth grade reading scores this year as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Oklahoma was the fourth most-improved state in that category.”
In this PBS NewsHour story, Cat Wise, a special correspondent, reports that Oklahoma’s universal preschool is “a costly government program in one of the reddest of red states, but it appears both Democrats and Republicans believe it’s working.”
Wise adds: “Across the country, 44 states pay for some version of pre-K classes, but only four states and the district of Columbia offer universal preschool. The fact that all residents, not just families with low income, can enroll here could be why the program receives wide political support in a conservative state like Oklahoma.”
To learn more, read the PBS stories and check out some of Oklahoma’s early childhood resources.