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Oklahoma Pre-K Often Praised, But Early Educators No Better off


A comprehensive look at working conditions for early childhood care workers and educators finds Oklahoma is slipping.

Marcy Whitebook led the study at the University of California, Berkeley's Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. She said Oklahoma was making the best progress among 17 states addressing early educators’ low wages.

"Oklahoma, in addition to offering parity for pre-K teachers, offered a wage supplement program for early educators working outside of public pre-K, but, due to budget cuts, Oklahoma's wage supplement program was recently ended," Whitebook said.

In 2015 dollars, Oklahoma preschool teacher wages rose 23 percent from 2010 to 2015. Child care worker wages dropped 4 percent. Compared to all other workers, Oklahoma child care workers earn less than 98 percent of the workforce, and preschool teachers 68 percent.

Besides changing its standout wage policies, Oklahoma is edging forward when it comes to policies covering qualifications, funding and tracking early educators. The state is among the worst when it comes to support for low-income families and paid time off. Whitebook said an old mindset contributes to the situation.

"We have a long tradition of thinking this was unskilled work that, basically, any woman could do it just because she was a woman," Whitebook said.

A first look at working conditions decades ago found early educators had few qualification requirements, low wages and little oversight.

"The well-being of early educators, along with their knowledge and skills, are inseparable from the quality of care children receive," Whitebook said. "Nevertheless, poor employment condition not unlike those identified nearly 50 years ago remain the norm."

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.