Candidates for governor, superintendent back early childhood education

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 13-Sep-2010

Candidates for Oklahoma governor and state superintendent discussed the state of early childhood education in Oklahoma during a forum on the topic Monday (September 13) at Tulsa Educare I. Gubernatorial hopefuls Lt. Gov. Jari Askins and U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin expressed support, along with candidates for superintendent of public instruction, Dr. Janet Barresi and state Sen. Susan Paddack.

Fallin and Barresi are the Republican nominees for the respective positions, while Askins and Paddack are the Democrats.

Sponsoring organizations for the forum — the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Inasumch Foundation – sent CapitolBeatOK a release summarizing discussion among the hopefuls.

Lt. Gov. Askins kicked off the event, focusing her remarks on the difference that she says can be seen among children who participate in high-quality learning programs during the early years of their life. She said Oklahoma believes in helping its youngest citizens succeed.

“We are investing in our children, we are investing in their education and we are investing in their opportunity to stay in Oklahoma and work throughout their lives,” Askins said. “If we are going to see our children grow to their potential, then we are going to have to invest in them.”

U.S. Rep. Fallin spoke about early education as the key to growing an educated workforce. She said every dollar spent on a child during their early years saves $16 in other expenses, such as poverty services.

“Moving forward as a state, education is going to be key to moving out of this recession,” Fallin said.

Dr. Barresi, founder of two successful charter schools in Oklahoma City, spoke about Educare centers bridging the gap and showing measurable, positive results. She said early childhood efforts should be made with numbers in mind.

“I’m a big believer in early childhood,” she said. “The decisions we make need to be based more on data than on politics.”

Sen. Paddack, a member of the Senate Education Committee, finished the presentations with comments on the future of Oklahoma in terms of early childhood education.

“We have the opportunity to transform education,” she said. “I think it is very important that we are known nationally as a leader in early childhood education and that we work diligently to continue to be known as a leader.”

The candidates were also asked about their support of “Race to the Top” in Oklahoma, despite the state losing out on federal funds for the program. All four candidates showed a desire to implement the model of competition in Race to the Top throughout Oklahoma schools.

Ken Levit, executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, commented: “Oklahoma is leading the nation in early childhood education, with the understanding that the earliest years of a child’s life are the most important to their growth and development. A commitment from our elected officials to supporting early care and education for Oklahoma’s children is essential to ensure we continue to hold our leadership position.”

The event was hosted by The Kaiser and Inasmuch Foundations. Levit delivered opening remarks, and Inasmuch Foundation President and CEO Bob Ross moderated. Both foundations are lead funders of Educare centers in their respective cities, Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

Educare centers employ bachelor-degreed teachers to provide year-round, high-quality education for at-risk children from 6 weeks to 5 years of age. Additionally, a central feature of the Educare model is to provide significant support for parents through on-site social services and mental health staff.

“Inasmuch Foundation is heavily invested in early childhood education in Oklahoma,” Ross said. “We need more public-private partnerships like those that make Educare centers possible to continue to serve our state’s low-income children and their families with high-quality care and education.”

Two children from the school participated in a question-and-answer session at the event, asking candidates about their favorite subject in school and their favorite book to read when they were young.

The George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) is a charitable organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty through investments in early childhood education, community health, social services and civic enhancement. Based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, GKFF works primarily on initiatives developed in collaboration with Tulsa-based direct service organizations. The foundation is the lead funder for two Educare centers in Tulsa and is currently building a third.

Inasmuch Foundation was established in 1982 by Edith Kinney Gaylord and provides funding and support to educational, health and human service, cultural, artistic, historical and environmental concerns. The foundation is the lead funder of Oklahoma City Educare.

Founded by the Ounce of Prevention Fund in Chicago in 2000, Educare centers are committed to helping young children grow up safe, healthy and eager to learn. Through a consortium of partners, Educare supporters create, provide and promote the highest quality outcome-based learning environments for families and their children (ages prenatal to five years) who are at-risk for school failure.

Organizers of the forum said in a release: “Educare principles and practices are based on continual research and implementation within the field of early childhood education. The success of the children who enter this program will demonstrate the societal and economic value of investing in the earliest years in order to prevent the need for costly interventions later.”