Oklahoma's pre-k program described as national model

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - A report to a national research group holds up Oklahoma's publicly funded prekindergarten program as a model for other states to follow.

But most families nationwide still face hurdles in paying for quality early education for their children, according to the report delivered on Thursday.

W. Steven Barnett, director of the Rutgers University-based National Institute for Early Education Research, spoke to the National Research Council in Washington about the financial barriers keeping many middle-class families from enrolling their children in quality educational programs before they start kindergarten.

In most parts of the United States, families making between $30,000 and $50,000 a year must pay for private preschool, barring many from attending. Federally funded Head Start programs are available to families earning at or below the federal poverty level, or little more than $20,000 per year, Barrett said in an interview with The Oklahoman.

"In that middle income range, a lot of them are simply left out, " he said.

Nationally, that translates to about eight in 10 children of working class families who do not attend prekindergarten. But among families with annual incomes of $100,000 or more, about seven of 10 children attend prekindergarten, making a clear connection to income, he said.

In 1998, Oklahoma was the second state to publicly fund prekindergarten programs in public schools.

According to the institute's 2006 State Preschool Yearbook, Oklahoma ranked first in the percentage of 4-year-olds enrolled.

About 93 percent of Oklahoma school districts offer programs for 4-year-olds, with no income requirement.

Oklahoma met nine of 10 quality benchmarks set by the institute. Data was from the 2005-06 school year.


Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

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