Early childhood education leaders in Oklahoma just returned from Capitol Hill, where they advocated for the expansion of the federal Preschool Development Grant. They are hoping to help other states as well as our own, but they may be facing an uphill battle.
Oklahoma was the only state that was called upon to speak to legislators about the importance of early childhood development and preschool, mainly because of the success we have seen here, but the Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness (OPSR) admits there is still a lot of work to be done.
Forty-six states received the new Preschool Development Grant last year, and here, OPSR is using it to interview providers and families from a variety of backgrounds.
OPSR Executive Director Debra Andersen says, “Once we complete this needs assessment, which will help us identify gaps in where we’re not serving children, then we will develop a five-year strategic plan.”
Andersen was one of three panelists speaking to the Congress committee on Thursday, asking them to increase the grant funding from $250 million to $400 million to serve even more kids when applications open this summer.
However, Andersen says, “The expectation is that they will fund 20 states, and that’s less than half of the states that received this first-year funding.”
She hopes her panel's testimony will change that. Rear Admiral Kenneth Perry (Ret.) pointed out that right now, 71 percent of Americans cannot serve in the military, oftentimes because they cannot pass the written test.
“He commented that this is a national security issue in the country,” Andersen says. “We have got to do a better job of preparing our youngest.”
Governor Kevin Stitt emphasizes his support as well, saying to us in a statement, “Oklahoma's national leadership in early childhood continues to be revered. The Preschool Development Grant - “OK Futures” - further advances our work to be a Top Ten state in every respect. I am proud of the investment our state continues to make for our young children, and I look forward to working with my team, fellow elected officials, and the Legislature to continue to move the needle in early childhood outcomes, as well as education as a whole."
Andersen encourages Oklahomans to utilize the available resources now to ensure a brighter future for all of us. To learn more about the services available for your family and your eligibility for reduced-cost childcare, click here.