OKLAHOMA CITY – Governor Mary Fallin and Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi announced recently that Oklahoma will submit an application tailored to Oklahoma’s unique strengths as a leader in early childhood education to the Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC) program. RTT-ELC is a $500 million state-level grant competition aimed at improving early childhood education. Under RTT-ELC, participating states submit a detailed application to the United States Department of Education, outlining their plans to improve upon early childhood education. Should Oklahoma be chosen as a winner, the state would be eligible for a grant of up to $60 million.
Oklahoma is considered a national leader in early childhood learning, with the largest number of four-year olds per capita enrolled in voluntary pre-kindergarten classes in the nation. Approximately 75% of Oklahoma 4-year-olds enroll in pre-kindergarten programs. Quality early childhood education has been shown to increase social and cognitive readiness for kindergartners and to bolster student performance.
“My number one priority as governor is to make Oklahoma a more prosperous state with more good, high paying jobs,” Fallin said. “In the long term, nothing is more important to achieving that goal than having quality educational institutions, high student achievement and a highly skilled workforce.
“In the last year we have pursued a variety of reforms aimed at increasing quality and accountability in grades K-12. Now, by pursuing improvements to early childhood education, we can help to ensure that children are better prepared to excel in school even before they arrive in kindergarten. That’s why I’ve asked the Department of Education to take the lead in developing an Early Learning Challenge application that clearly defines areas where we can improve on our past successes and improve early childhood education in Oklahoma, without creating any new government programs or leaving the state on the hook for additional costs in later years.”
Barresi said that investing in early childhood education would ultimately pay big dividends for the state.
“Studies show that for every $1 dollar invested in early learning, upwards of $11 in economic benefits are seen over a child's lifetime.” Barresi said. “Improving our early childhood education programs will help to increase test scores while decreasing the costs associated with remediation and special education programs.”
“Investing in early childhood education is a key component of our renewed focus and conservative reforms on literacy and proficiency in core areas like math and science. If our kids aren’t ready to learn on day one of their academic careers – beginning in kindergarten – than they can quickly fall behind. Pre-K programs are proven to help children develop the skills they need to become successful students, and eventually successful members of our workforce. Ultimately, the investment we make in these early stages pays for itself many times over.”
Secretary of Education Phyllis Hudecki also voiced her support for the grant application.
“This is a great opportunity for the state to continue to build on what is one of the most successful and high-quality early education systems in the nation,” said Hudecki. “Getting these children the tools they need to succeed academically is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do, and will continue to benefit Oklahoma for years to come.”
The application for the ELC grant is due on October 19. While the Oklahoma Department of Education will play a lead role, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health and the Department of Commerce will each assist in developing the application. Winners are expected to be announced by the end of the year.