Oklahoma is nationally recognized for its high-quality infant and toddler programs and longstanding statewide universal preschool program, which is available to all four-year-olds in the state on a voluntary basis. The program started in 1980 and served more than 40,000 children statewide in 2013. All preschool teachers have at least a bachelor’s degree, must be fully certified in early childhood education, and are compensated at the same level as public school teachers. Researchers have studied Tulsa’s preschool program and found that children who attend Tulsa preschool make important gains in early literacy and math skills. These benefits extend to third grade math outcomes, particularly for boys and low-income children. Researchers also found that there are significant cost savings for the program, with every dollar invested yielding three in return. In addition to the high-quality preschool program offered to four-year-olds, the Oklahoma Early Childhood Program, which was launched in 2006, now serves more than 2,000 infants and toddlers across the state. This program benefits from a unique public-partnership with the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) that matches state investments annually to serve additional children and families.
The GKFF also led the development of and continues to support Tulsa Educare, a public-private partnership that serves over 500 children under three-years-old in three high-quality early childhood program centers in at-risk communities. Tulsa recently partnered with the nonprofit Too Small To Fail to reach the broadest set of children and families through the “Talking is Teaching” campaign. The campaign employs a community-based approach to engage pediatricians, business owners, faith-based leaders, librarians and others to empower parents and caregivers to boost young children’s brain development and build their vocabularies by increasing the number of words they hear spoken to them every day.