An old adage warns that there are two things one should never witness being made: sausage and legislation. In a recent radio story on This American Life, producer Alex Blumberg ignores this advice and provides a fascinating look at how Oklahoma in 1998 became the nation’s first state to have universal, publicly funded pre-kindergarten. The state legislature changed its school funding formula to include pre-kindergarten. Today, Blumberg reports, 75% of Oklahoma’s 4-year-olds attend publicly funded pre-kindergarten.
Did proponents of high-quality early education march out the evidence, launch a large grass-roots campaign, line up business leaders for the bully pulpit, and persuade a forward-thinking legislature to spend millions of dollars to adopt a proven strategy that would more than pay back the initial investment?
No. The change was hidden in an amendment to a bill on a related issue. A loophole in Oklahoma law had allowed school districts to pad their kindergartens with 4-year-olds as a way to collect large amounts of extra funding. A bill to close the loophole contained an amendment expanding the school funding formula to include pre-kindergarten. The bill’s sponsor talked up fixing the loophole, but remained silent on the seemingly obscure amendment. Thus, the loophole was erased, and preschool became part of the school funding formula. Listen to This American Life: PK-O for more on this stealth operation.
As Blumberg reports, schools immediately noticed an improvement in children’s school readiness, and research from Oklahoma joins other evidence of the benefits of high-quality early education.