Oklahoma completed a state economic impact report in 2004. The project was a collaboration between the Oklahoma Department of Human Services Child Care Division and the Oklahoma State University College of Business Administration. The intent of the report was to provide an economic argument for ECE investments for legislators, businesses leaders, and others who had not previously recognized the importance and impact of early education. The report was released at a State held press conference with good media coverage.
One unique challenge facing Oklahoma is its changing demographics, in particular a declining child population. Growing Hispanic and Asian population are keeping the rate above zero. Most of four-year old ECE programs are located in the schools and implemented through the school district with state funding to maintain and sustain the infrastructure. This structure has increased parent awareness of ECE and pre-kindergarten programs. It has also resulted in increased parental interest in the quality and value of public education. This has helped build momentum for three-year old programs as well.
Using Economic Messages
Oklahoma has been recognized at the national level for its preschool program and efforts to ensure access to pre-kindergarten for all four-year olds. ECE has been included and discussed as both a workforce and school readiness issue and linked to the growing drop-out problem in the state. Today there is increasing support for expanding access and quality of ECE programs for all children. Efforts are being pursued to move on multiple fronts with business, government, universities, workforce development, and parents to help make forward strides in early education.
In the late1980s the Metro Tulsa Area Chamber adopted a comprehensive policy supporting affordable, quality day care and child development programs. In 1990, the Chamber President led efforts that resulted in the creation of the Tulsa Children’s Coalition to promote and support early childhood education through neighborhood elementary schools. Today the Chamber includes the Child Care Resource and Referral Center as part of any economic development team who talks with potential new businesses looking to relocate. The Chamber has a standing early childhood committee which provides the opportunity to meet new leadership in the community and share information about ECE. Large companies are encouraged to do an employee child care assessment. They are provided with information about what other like-sized companies offer to help meet the child care needs of their employees. George Kaiser, president and CEO of Kaiser-Francis Oil Company, is a prominent member of the Tulsa and Oklahoma business community and has made significant investments in ECE. His participation in a number of state and local efforts has leveraged significant additional private and philanthropic funds for investment in Oklahoma’s ECE infrastructure.
The First Tulsa Summit on Early Childhood Development was hosted in 1997. In 2002, the Tulsa Community Service Council and the Mayor hosted a second city conference on early childhood development. This was an opportunity to celebrate the successes achieved in the previous five years and to renew a call to action. In 2003, with the Mayor’s leadership, Tulsa launched the Tulsa County Partnership for Early Childhood Success and the JumpStart community engagement campaign. These programs support all of Tulsa County's ECE and school readiness programs for children ages zero to five. Another renew summit is planned for 2008.
The local government officials and Mayors in cities such as Tulsa have been strong supporters of ECE. Tulsa’s local government has worked with child advocates and providers to pushed forward changes that alleviate many barriers to starting child care facilities in the city. Work is being done to share these strategies with the bedroom communities around Tulsa where barriers still exist. These efforts, to date, have been well received. As much of funding for ECE programs come from the state, local governments have been open to working with the ECE community to implement programmatic, planning and procedural changes that support ECE efforts.
Boosting the Economic Power of Early Care and Education: Key Highlights
In March 2006, Tulsa Metro Chamber, Smart Start Oklahoma and the Committee for Economic Development hosted a luncheon for more than 400 business, academic and policy leaders. George Kaiser was the keynote speaker at this event. The focus of his message was on the economic impact of ECE programs and return on these investments for Oklahoma.
JumpStart Tulsa hosts Early Childhood Leadership Forums throughout the year to share new information on early childhood development and education. In October 2007, it hosted a program on the economic impact of child care entitled Quality Early Education in Oklahoma: A Competitive Necessity in a Global Economy. This presentation put Oklahoma in the context of the global economy and highlighted the role that ECE has in impacting the quality and competitiveness of the future workforce.
Oklahoma’s EDGE (Economic Development Generating Excellence) was launched in 2003 by the Governor in partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. This effort was designed to create a blueprint for Oklahoma’s economic future. Early education is included in EDGE action plan as part of the goal to update the state’s education system and encourages investment in effective pre-kindergarten through college education.
As part of his commitment to early education, George Kaiser has led efforts that have resulting in the opening of two Educare Centers in Oklahoma – one in Tulsa and one in Oklahoma City. Both opened in 2007. Providing millions of dollars in funding along with significant leadership to push this work forward, these centers provide high quality care and family support for hundreds of at risk children. These centers, part of the national Educare effort funded by the Buffet Early Childhood Fund, are public private partnerships with business and investors providing funding for the physical space. Blended funding from state agencies, school districts and others provides for operational costs. The centers offer not only early education programs but family supports, such as medial and social services. The Oklahoma City Center will also offer mental health services for children birth through age three.
The Tulsa Community Foundation and George Kaiser Family Foundation are targeting the ECE workforce needs. Working with Tulsa Community College and the University of Oklahoma, efforts are underway to create an ECE program that allows students to start their degree at the community college and transfer to the University to finish a four-year degree free of cost. To better understand the workforce needs, the early childhood study center at the University in Tulsa is completing a study on manpower and child care workforce.
State and Legislative Actions
In 1998, Oklahoma’s Early Childhood four-year old program was expanded to serve all four-year olds. Programs are run under the Department of Education and are open to all four-year old children in participating school districts. Public schools districts are collaborating with private childcare centers and Head Start programs for services.
In 2000, by executive order, the Governor's Task Force on Early Childhood Education was charged with assessing Oklahoma's ECE system. The 2001 report, found significant challenges in the ECE system. It urged investments to improve quality and affordability of ECE as a means of making significant and long-lasting impact on a child's life and Oklahoma's future. This report was a catalyst for state action in ECE.
In April 2003 the Oklahoma legislature passed the Oklahoma School Readiness Partnership Act, which grew out of one of the key recommendations made in the Governor's Task Force on Early Childhood Education report. This legislation resulted in the creation of the Partnership for School Readiness, since renamed Smart Start Oklahoma. Smart Start Oklahoma, supports local coalitions that have mobilized to address ECE needs. Thirteen of the communities began their work as pilot demonstrations in communities participating in United Way’s Success by 6 programs through support from state and private dollars.
In 2007 the Oklahoma legislature passed a tax credit for stay at home parents. Filers can take either 20% of the tax credit for child care expenses currently allowed under the Internal Revenue Code or 5% of the child tax credit, whichever is greater, only if the taxpayer's federal adjusted gross income does not exceed $100,000.
JumpStart Tulsa is an Initiative of the Tulsa County Partnership for Early Childhood Success, is an early childhood community engagement campaign. The website has information on Tulsa's efforts, presentations as related to the economic impact of early education, events and other resource materials.