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Report: Oklahoma Pre-K Putting Quantity Over Quality

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The latest State of Preschool report takes a bit of the shine off Oklahoma’s pre-K program.

The annual report says Oklahoma puts quantity over quality, getting the nation’s fourth-highest proportion of four-year-olds, 73 percent, into preschool but meeting just seven of 10 heightened quality standards.

National Institute for Early Education Research CEO Steven Barnett said there are great benefits to pre-K, especially for kids in low-income families.

"Research shows that high-quality pre-K can boost achievement, reduce school failure, reduce antisocial behavior and increase educational attainment, but only if it’s high quality," Barnett said.

Save the Children Action Network CEO Mark Shriver agreed, pointing out kids living in poverty are about 18 months behind kids who aren't by the time they get to school.

"It’s an economic question at play here, but it’s also a social justice question. I mean, if a kid living in poverty is 18 months behind, you know, my kid or your kid who’s not living in poverty, we spend billions of dollars in remediation, and, in many cases, those gains are not made," Shriver said.

Jeff Gibson with Fight Crime: Invest in Kids said a Chicago study that followed kids from preschool to adulthood points to the long-term effects of good pre-K.

"Children who had not participated in the high-quality pre-K program were 70 percent more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by the age of 18 than those who’d had," said Gibson, who is also the police chief in Bedford, Texas.

Oklahoma does not require assistant pre-K teachers to have more than a high-school diploma, nor does it require tailored professional development for teachers and assistants.

Oklahoma is also spending less on pre-K than 31 other states, Guam and the District of Columbia. Oklahoma's per-pupil spending in 2017 dollars was lower last year than in 2002.