To highlight the importance of investing in Oklahoma’s early childhood programs and in preparation for the upcoming legislative session, Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness (OPSR) and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) invited legislators and legislative staff to an Early Childhood Policy Symposium at the Oklahoma State Capitol on January 11, 2022.
OPSR Executive Director Carrie Williams was joined by senators George Young (D) and John Haste (R), who served as legislative co-hosts of the symposium. Senator Young participated in the Early Learning Fellows Program sponsored by NCSL in 2017, and Senator Haste serves as vice chair on the senate’s Health and Human Services Committee and participated in the Early Learning Fellows Program in 2021.
“We know the importance of prioritizing quality early childhood experiences at OPSR. The programs and services we invest in for our children are significant drivers of a healthy, productive economy,” said Williams. “We are so thankful to have the opportunity to share that message with policy makers.”
Dr. Amelia Bachleda with the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences (I-LABS) at the University of Washington presented on The Science of Early Brain Development, and Dr. Art Rolnik with the Department of Economics at the University of Minnesota spoke on The Economic Case for Investing in the Early Years.
“More than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second in the first few years of a child’s life,” said Dr. Bachleda in her presentation. “The more often children have experiences, the stronger the connections are going to be, making it extremely important to begin focusing early on those experiences that can help them build important life skills.”
“There’s a significant public return in an investment of early childhood,” stated Dr. Rolnik. “Our studies have found there is an 18% annual rate of return on an investment in early childhood for at-risk youth – mostly public because the cost of schooling goes way down, the cost of crime goes down. It’s clear from our point of view that we are way under investing in early childhood education, especially for at-risk youth.”
The symposium also featured a panel discussion with representation from key stakeholders in the early childhood system. Panelists included Justin Brown, Secretary of Human Services and the Director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, Rachel Proper, representing the Oklahoma Child Care Association., Cindy Decker with Tulsa Educare, Sarah Roberts, vice president of programs at Inasmuch Foundation, Linda Manaugh from Potts Family Foundation and Tom Cassidy and Kaitlyn Hunter with INTEGRIS Health.
“It was critically important not only to highlight what Oklahoma is doing well, but also where we need to do more. Our panelists were able to do that by highlighting public and private partnerships, upcoming opportunities for expansion of services and explaining the needs of Oklahoma’s children and those who care for them,” added Williams.
The symposium was funded through a grant given to OPSR by the Alliance for Early Success, a national nonprofit that works with early childhood policy advocates at the state level to ensure that every child, birth through age 8, has an equal opportunity to learn, grow, and succeed. OPSR’s goal with the symposium was to lead a discussion on the current state of early childhood in Oklahoma and share with policy-makers the significant impact that investing in young children can have on long-term development and success.
“Our hope is that we can take what we learned at the symposium and carry it forward,” said Senator Haste. “We want to ensure we are giving the appropriate attention to early childhood.”