Oklahoma Pre-K Model Could Influence National Program

Tuesday, February 19th 2013, 7:44 pm
By: News 9

President Obama wants to expand universal pre-K across the country. He called for it in his State of the Union Address, and an Oklahoma teacher was there representing our state as shining example of success.

In Oklahoma, nearly 75 percent of 4-year-olds are enrolled in pre-K. That's one of the highest participation rates in the country.

Now, policymakers are considering our state as a model for universal pre-K.

Susan Bumgarner teaches two half-day pre-K classes at Wilson Arts Integration Elementary.

"It's my belief based on research and experience that if we do the very best we can for young children, it will pay off hugely for us as a whole society," Bumgarner said.

Bumgarner was in Washington, D.C. last week for the State of the Union as President Obama called for expanding early childhood education. He gave a shout out to Oklahoma. We've offered universal pre-K since 1998.

"I think if it could work in Oklahoma, it could work anywhere because we have a largely rural state. I think it's a model that's really easier for maybe an urban area to start," Bumgarner said.

Under the Oklahoma model, every class has a teacher certified in early childhood education. That teacher also has an assistant if the class has at least 10 children, and there are only 20 kids per class.

Advocates say the idea is simple: kids learn more in pre-K, and the benefits go beyond academic success.

"There are social gains [and] economic gains," Bumgarner says, "When children grow up will they stay out of jail? Will they stay employed? Will they stay married? Those kind of gains are also very much evidence from research, and those don't show up on a report card in grade school," Bumgarner said.

Another element in the national pre-K discussion is how long the school day should be.

In our state's largest school district, Oklahoma City Public Schools, 65 percent are in full-day pre-K classes, and the goal is to add more in the next couple of years.