Patrick B. McGuigan
At the end of a morning ceremony for Early Childhood Awareness Week in the Capitol Blue Room today (Tuesday, September 27), Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin read “Green Eggs and Ham” to 18 Kindergarten students from St. John Christian Academy in northeast Oklahoma City.
In a follow-up interview with CapitolBeatOK, Gov. Fallin was asked if inclusion of children from the church-supported school indicated a willingness to make private schools and parental choice part of her development of tax-financed early education programs.
She responded, “We are reviewing the requirements of the (federal) grant right now and will be compiling a list of requirements. We will be looking at what can be done in that direction.”
CapitolBeatOK pointed to SoonerPoll results showing that parents among likely voters overwhelmingly prefer to keep their own money in their pockets and take care of their own young children, rather than support more programs.
Asked if she favored government policies that would help parents use their own resources to take care of their own children, the governor responded, “One of my top priorities has been to help Oklahoman's keep more of their own money in their own pockets. Lower taxes are one way to do that. Yes, I favor policies in that direction.”
Joining Fallin for the observance, organized by “Reach Out and Read Oklahoma,” were the group’s state director, Steven Davis, and Judge David Lewis of the state Court of Criminal Appeals, chairman of the “Reach Out” organization.
Bob Ross of the Inasmuch Foundation introduced Fallin. In doing so, he expressed appreciation for her decision to pursue the Obama administration’s Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant.
Ross noted that “given a strong foundation, any child can learn.” He praised the “Reach Out” group for assisting 35,000 students at 44 sites around the state, children who are provided age-appropriate books in an effort to promote reading readiness in early childhood.
Fallin expressed appreciation for the program, and said she had been on the East Coast bragging about Oklahoma’s education reforms, and the importance of effective teachers in public school classrooms. The chief executive said a stress on literacy and early education was a natural part of her emphasis on economic development, through a “ready-to-learn” workforce. She thanked organizers of the morning’s events, including Judge Lewis, “for willingness to take this on when he’s so busy as a jurist.” Fallin personally delivered a gubernatorial proclamation recognizing the “Reach Out” program.
After saying, “Now, I get to have some fun,” the chief executive donned her reading glasses and read the Dr. Seuss classic in steady rhythm and rhyme, with frequent responses from the 18 children gathered in front of her.
Also at the Blue Room event were Senobia James, kindergarten teacher at St. John, and the childrens’ physical education instructor, Adolph Wearry. Other participants included state Rep. Mike Shelton, and Pastors Donald D. Woody, Sr. (Judah Christian Assemblly) and Ray Douglas (Greater Mount Olive).
Anita Blanton, a reporter for television station KOCO (Channel 5) participated with the children, as did Dr. Marny Dunlap from the OU Health Sciences Center and Stacy Dykstra, director of Smart Start Central Oklahoma.