Oklahoma continues to be a national leader in providing universal access to prekindergarten, according to a report released Wednesday.
The National Institute for Early Childhood Education ranks Oklahoma No. 4 for access to prekindergarten, with 74% of the state’s 4-year-olds enrolled in early education programs during the 2017-18 school year.
As one of the first states to commit to universal access to preschool, Oklahoma has been ranked at or near the top of the annual report for several years. It’s also only one of four states that require pre-K teachers to hold bachelor’s degrees and teaching certificates and ensure them equal pay with other grade-level teachers.
“Kindergarten-readiness has long been a priority in Oklahoma, as has professionalizing the role of those who teach our youngest learners,” State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said. “For decades, our early childhood educators have been nationally renowned as pioneers in their field.”
The report shows Oklahoma met nine of 10 quality standards benchmarks set by the institute, including class size and staff professional development. The missing benchmark relates to child development associate credentials for assistant teachers.
Three states met all benchmarks, while four tied Oklahoma with nine.
Meanwhile, only a third of 4-year-olds in the country were enrolled in state-funded preschool during 2017-18. State spending per child has decreased, according to the report, and most states fail to pay pre-K teachers comparably to those who teach kindergarten through third grade.
Nationwide, enrollment has more than doubled since 2002, but expansion has slowed in recent years. Although more children are attending pre-K programs, state funding is failing to keep pace, resulting in low compensation for teachers and poor classroom quality, said Steven Barnett, the institute’s founder and senior co-director.
“We are disappointed by the lack of progress and concerned about how many children miss out on quality early learning experiences that can make a lifelong difference,” Barnett said. “Some states are moving in the right direction, but many are standing still.”
Oklahoma is ranked No. 34 in the nation for state spending per child, at $3,644, down from $3,802 in 2016-17 with an adjustment for inflation. The report says local and federal funding increase the amount to $8,024 per child.
The national average for state spending per child was $5,172, an increase of $161 over the previous year.
Further, 9% of children enrolled in public preschool across the country attend programs that meet at least nine standards benchmarks. Twelve states have programs that met fewer than half of the benchmarks, including states with the largest numbers of children in state-funded preschool and children in poverty.
Mark Shriver, senior vice president for Save the Children’s U.S. Programs and Advocacy, said investing in high-quality early childhood education is one of the most effective ways to break the pervasive cycle of poverty and ensure equal opportunity for all families.
“Effective preschool programs are a long-term investment in our nation’s future and our most precious resource: our children,” Shriver said. “They provide the foundation and set the course for a child’s lifelong learning and success.”