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Oklahoma Still a Leading State for Pre-K, But COVID-19 Challenges Lie Ahead


Oklahoma remains one of the leading states for pre-K in a new annual report.

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, 76% of Oklahoma 4-year-olds are enrolled in preschool, a number that’s been relatively stable for the past decade but still third-best in the U.S.

Oklahoma is also one of five states meeting nine of NIEER’s 10 quality benchmarks. Just four states meet all 10.

While Oklahoma is 10th in the U.S. when it comes to total per-child spending on preschool programs, it ranks just 27th for state spending. According to NIEER, Oklahoma spent more than $4,200 per child on pre-K programs in the 2019 school year. That was up $490 from the year before but still below a 2008 level of more than $5,000, and well below the national average of almost $5,400 per child.

NIEER Director Steven Barnett said as the economic effects of COVID-19 hit, many states may cut pre-K spending.

"There is not now a federal program that provides dedicated funding for state pre-K. There needs to be one," Barnett said.

Barnett said all states will face another challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic: not having kids and teachers in classrooms.

"Computer programs are not a real substitute for preschool any more than the wooden puppet Pinocchio was a real boy. Young children learn best through hands-on activities engaged with adults and other children," Barnett said.

Oklahoma schools are closed at least through the end of the school year.

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.
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