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May 3rd, 2011 - Dean Anderson


Local group says brain drain starts early for Oklahoma workforce


Oklahoma´s chief executive officers are realizing that investing in early childhood education today may be the best way to get a more qualified workforce tomorrow.

According to the statewide early childhood education initiative Smart Start Oklahoma, 30% of kindergartners do not perform on a kindergarten level.

Combine that with research showing nearly 90% of a child’s brain is formed by age 5, and one can see Oklahoma’s brain drain starts much earlier than most might think. That’s why local nonprofits and business leaders have formed the Oklahoma Champions for Early Opportunity, or OKCEO.

“Our foundation became very interested early on how we could change the trajectory of negative statistics in our state, and it really took us to looking at what the root causes were,” says Pat Potts, president of the Potts Family Foundation. “The more we studied it, the more we saw

research that showed that in the first three years of life, 85% of the brain develops.”

That statistic made Blake Wade stand up and take notice. The president of the Oklahoma Business Roundtable knew his membership would want to hear it.

“I was startled when I was told that, and I use that with everyone who will listen to me,” Wade says. “Can you imagine if every child was able to be in that environment for the first three years, just how structured they will be for the rest of their lives?” The roundtable was interested.

Meeting three times a year, the Oklahoma Business Roundtable is comprised of more than 115 local CEOs. The group reaches all the way into the state Capitol, and Oklahoma Commerce Secretary Dave Lopez is a former chairman of the roundtable.

“We saw the opportunity to join in because we really need to be taking these opportunities for our children, because they’re going to grow up to be our workforce,” Wade says.

The roundtable works to put in place private funding for Oklahoma business development efforts. And right now, private funding may be the answer as the state looks for programs to trim.

Oklahoma is one of the few states to contribute additional funds to the federal Head Start dollars distributed to community agencies.

“I think we’re on the right track,” Wade says. “This is an eye-opener that’s very critical to all of us. It’s amazing how many people don’t realize about the first three years of a child’s life. That is the message, and we’ve got to get it out there.”

Nationally, the funding picture is bleaker.

The cost of providing early education programs would be close to $70 billion, or roughly $8,700 per child, annually.

According to statistics provided by the National Institute for Early Education Research, the cost of providing early education programs for the nation’s 3- and 4-year-olds would be close to $70 billion, or roughly $8,700 per child, annually.

One of the lasting legacies of President Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, Head Start tries to equal the playing field for disadvantaged children. Last year, the U.S. spent $7 billion on the program.

As the nation continues to dig itself out of recession, the U.S. House of Representatives proposed to cut nearly a fourth of Head Start funding, which would have dropped more than 200,000 students from the program and 55,000 workers.

The spending bill was defeated in the Senate, but the program has been targeted.

Potts says the American workforce now works more hours than any of the industrialized nations, but students attend school for less hours than any industrialized nation.

“The kids are sort of lost in the midst of all this,” he says. “You either have to pay now in the first few years of life supporting parents and community resources for them, or you pay many times more with kids that are not doing well in school and end up dropping out.

“I think anybody who understands how critical human capital development is to our future economic well-being understands if we withdraw resources that are working and making a difference, we are going to be hurting our state in the long run.”

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05.04.2011 at 04:35 Reply

Oklahomans who favor increased government spending on early-education programs like to tout the “return on investment” these government programs could provide. But before committing resources to a project, intelligent investors—and certainly intelligent CEOs—will consider not only the potential rewards but also the risks.

“Because Oklahoma’s advocates of early-childhood education programs are professionals conversant with the research literature,” Bryce Christensen has written, “it is hard to believe they do not know about the risks of relying on such programs as a replacement for at-home parents.” And yet, for some reason they rarely mention the research demonstrating the risks involved in replacing mothers with paid surrogates. These risks include, but are not limited to, insecure maternal attachment, long-term behavioral problems, and health complications. The Heritage Foundation helpfully maintains a social-science research database (FamilyFacts.org) with many findings from scholarly journals and papers.

“Why this strange reluctance to address issues truly central to early childhood education?” asks Christensen, author of Divided We Fall: Family Discord and the Fracturing of America. “It is hard not to suspect the distorting influence of self-interest. After all, mothers who stay at home with their children do not create new opportunities for educators or bureaucrats or lobbyists. Those opportunities open up only by persuading parents to turn their children over to surrogates while opening up their tax checkbooks to pay other people’s salaries.”

While we’re on the topic of “return on investment,” CEOs should be aware that Head Start is—there’s no other way to put this—ineffective. Heritage Foundation scholar David Muhlhausen and others have written at length about this. And his colleague Lindsey Burke points out that “Oklahoma and Georgia, which have both had preschool for over a decade, have essentially seen zero benefit to their 3- and 4-year-old children. In Oklahoma, students have actually seen a decline in reading achievement since the introduction of universal preschool.”

Oklahoma already spends hundreds of millions of federal and state dollars every year for government programs in early education. That’s plenty. The good news is that there’s more than one way for “investors” to “invest” in early education.

Effective CEOs will ask, “What do my customers want?” In a 2010 SoonerPoll (margin of error 3.1 percent), 1,000 likely voters were asked: "Now thinking about early-childhood policy in Oklahoma, assuming the state government had a limited amount of money, which of the following do you believe should take precedence?" Only 25 percent of respondents said "increasing daycare subsidies for families when professional childcare is used for their young child(ren)." But 61 percent said "redirecting a portion of the daycare subsidies toward a tax break for families in which one parent stays home with young child(ren)." Fourteen percent were undecided.

To boost long-term economic prosperity in this state, we need to stop favoring tax-subsidized fractured families at the expense of heavily taxed intact families. We need to stop favoring paid surrogates over mothers. Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker once suggested to researcher Patrick Fagan that, in Fagan’s words, “the married mother at home exerts a more far-reaching impact on the economy than the married father in the workplace (whose earnings would be less without the support of a wife at home). While the husband contributes to the present economy, the mother contributes to both present and future economy, but especially the future economy through the more highly productive children she raises.”


04.10.2014 at 09:16 Reply

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