Invest in Oklahoma’s most important early educators

March 30, 2011

There’s been a lot of talk lately about investing in “early education” in Oklahoma. And while everyone agrees that early education is vital, it is important not to lose sight of Oklahoma’s most important early educators: moms and dads.

A new paper by economists Pedro Carneiro, Katrine V. Løken, and Kjell G. Salvanes found that more time spent with mom during a child’s first year of life led to lower high-school dropout rates. By contrast, it’s interesting to note that Oklahoma's fourth-grade reading scores have actually declined since the state began offering universal preschool in 1998—a fact which has not gone unnoticed by Heritage Foundation analyst Lindsey Burke or by former state finance director Tom Daxon.

When considering “investments” in early education, policymakers should listen to what Oklahomans actually want. In a 2010 SoonerPoll (margin of error 3.1 percent), 1,000 likely Oklahoma voters were asked this question: "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.

In sum, there is more than one way to “invest” in early education. A tax break for parents is preferable to more government spending on paid surrogates.