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Oklahoma’s preschool program ranks second in national report

Oklahoma ranked 2nd in the nation for its pre-K access for 4-year-olds and met nine of 10 national quality standards presented in a new report from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).

The annual survey of state preschool policies used data from the 2020-2021 school year to evaluate child enrollment, funding, staffing and quality standards. It found six states, including Oklahoma, were already serving at least 70% of their population of 4-year-olds with state preschool, Head Start and special education prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Oklahoma launched its Early Childhood 4-year-old program in 1980 and became the second state in the nation to offer pre-K for all 4-year-olds in 1998 with 100% of school districts participating, according to the Oklahoma Department of Education.

Overall enrollment nationally went down due to the pandemic, according to the report. Oklahoma enrolled 4,233 fewer preschoolers during the 2020-2021 school year than the previous one. The report said taxpayer spending was just over $178 million, down 11%, adjusted for inflation. Oklahoma spent about $4,643 per child, which was slightly lower than the national average of $5,867.

The report found that average state spending per child had stayed steady over the last two decades, remaining in the $5,867-per-child range since 2002. However, total state spending on preschool has more than doubled over that same time period, jumping from $4.13 billion in 2002 to $8.98 billion in 2021, the report said.

Oklahoma had a total of 38,450 children enrolled in state pre-K for the 2020-2021 school year, with all school districts offering a state program with no income requirements, according to the report.

The only quality standard the state did not meet was having an childhood development associate requirement for an assistant teaching degree. The state met all other benchmarks including early learning and development standards, teaching degree standards, teaching specialized training, adequate class sizes and staff-child ratios, screening and referrals for vision and health, and having a continuous quality improvement system.

“Oklahoma’s Pre-K program has a history of excellence because our educators know academic success begins with a strong start in reading and math,” said Joy Hofmeister, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Oklahoma’s preschool program has weathered the pandemic far better than many other states, and I’m proud of our educators who have stayed focused on our youngest students.”

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