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The availability of child care and education programs is on the decline in Oklahoma...

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

During the first three years of a child’s life, the brain grows faster than at any other point in their development, laying the foundation for future learning, health and success. Early childhood care and education (ECCE) programs influence development, preparing children for school, the workforce and beyond.

The number of ECCE centers in our state has declined sharply. From 2015-2021, one in three childcare centers closed. Currently, 55% of our state’s population lives in a child care desert. What’s more, a 2021 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that one in 10 Oklahomans quit a job, declined a job or changed jobs due to problems finding quality child care.

ECCE programs aren’t just crucial for families, they are critically important to the state’s workforce development as well. Investing in these programs creates positive impacts on families, local businesses and state revenues.

Addressing the Issue

The Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness (OPSR) is celebrating 20 years of helping families access the care, education and mental health and health care services they need to support their children from birth to age 5. OPSR created a collaborative effort between state agencies and industry stakeholders to maximize the use of public and private funding to better serve Oklahoma families.

OPSR recently launched a collaborative telemedicine and teletherapy program, providing complimentary care to members of our Thrive Network. This collaboration comprises home-based child care providers who offer high-quality child care programs from their homes.

While we are proud of our decades-long history of working with partners across the state to enhance quality child care, there is still more to do. Addressing the ECCE shortage will take a collective effort among organizations statewide if we are to effectively serve children and keep our neighbors working.

Here at OPSR, we envision a bold approach encompassing the visionary actions outlined below:

Business Community

  • Implement dependent care stipend benefits to employees or dependent care FSA programs supported through employee contributions.

  • Contract with existing ECCE providers to hold slots for employees, especially for non-traditional care.

Non-Profit Community

  • Provide student scholarships to students in early child care studies.

  • Provide grants to make child care more affordable to low income families and innovation grants to improve quality or to expand access to child care.

Higher Education Community

  • Provide student scholarships to students in early child care studies and advocate for student loan forgiveness for early child care students.

  • Re-establish child care development centers operated by career techs and higher education.


  • Pass meaningful public policy that supports the ECCE industry.

    • Extend Child Care Desert Grants.

    • Raise and expand subsidy levels for childcare and move from an attendance-based subsidy to an enrollment-based allocation system.

    • Utilize novel funding programs to build or expand existing child care programs.

    • Consider the use of new municipal bonds to provide incentives to developers and operators to build/fund new child care facilities.

Most importantly, we must all recognize that today’s children are the workforce of tomorrow. Quality early learning allows our children to build and learn key life and work skills such as problem solving, getting along with others and reading at grade level. These are the building blocks for success in school, work and life. If we want Oklahoma to thrive in the future, it starts with an investment in early child care education today.

Carrie Williams serves as executive director of the Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness Foundation. She oversees Oklahoma’s Early Childhood Advisory Council and facilitates the streamlining of programs and services on behalf of Oklahoma’s children and families.


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