We’re #1, again! Last month, the National Institute for Early Education Research released the 2009 State Preschool Yearbook, its annual report on pre-kindergarten education across the nation. Overall, the report’s press release proclaimed that “Oklahoma was ranked as the leader of the top 10 states in the country… based on enrollment, quality standards, funding adequacy, and evidence of program effectiveness.”
On access, Oklahoma was recognized as “the only state where almost every child had the opportunity to attend a quality preschool education program at age 4.” The state data fact sheet shows that almost every school district in Oklahoma offers a 4-year old program and 71 percent of children were enrolled in a pre-K program in the 2008-09 school year. Under Oklahoma’s collaborative pre-K model, public school teachers can be placed in Head Start programs, child care centers, or other community-based programs, as well as directly in public schools.
On quality standards, Oklahoma met nine of ten benchmarks, including comprehensive early learning standards, professional and specialized teacher training, and small class sizes. The only benchmark not met in Oklahoma is requiring a CDA (entry-level credential) or equivalent for assistant teachers.
On funding, Oklahoma spent $147.2 million on pre-K in FY ’09. Its per pupil state spending was calculated as $4,084, which was 18th highest in the nation. Total per pupil spending, which includes federal expenditures, was $7,853, which was 8th highest among the states.
While noting the gains made in Oklahoma and elsewhere in extending pre-kindergarten programs, the report expressed a strong sense of concern about the impact of the national recession and state fiscal crunch on pre-K education. According to Steve Barnett, who authored the report:
The worst economic decline since the Great Depression has sharply reduced the ability of parents to provide for their young children. As family incomes fall, more children become eligible for and in need of state preschool programs. Yet, at the same time, state pre-K budgets are being squeezed, making it nearly impossible for them to meet the need.
As Oklahoma’s school districts brace for continued funding cuts in the year ahead, no programs are likely to be unaffected. And just as we were getting ready to post this piece, news has emerged that $10 million in annual appropriations for high-quality early childhood education may be at risk of being eliminated by the state Department of Education. The question of whether the state can make it through the crisis without reversing the tremendous progress in providing high-quality early childhood education that has earned Oklahoma top rankings and widespread acclaim will bear close scrutiny.
Update: Governor Henry issued an executive order on June 11th directing the Department of Education not to reduce the $10 million targeted in prior years for early childhood pilot programs by more than the agency’s overall funding reduction .