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Candidates and early childhood education

Craig Knutson October 10th, 2012

With 90 percent of brain development occurring in the first three years of life, investing in early childhood may be one of the most crucial steps toward establishing long-term economic success of our state. Mental, physical and psychological and social skills can be either stunted or nurtured by the quality of parenting and child care received by Oklahoma infants and toddlers.

While some think early childhood development rests solely on the shoulders of parents, there are ways in which societal factors can hinder early learning. These include lack of access to quality health care and child care as well as exposure to toxic stress and poverty-related trauma. Research shows quality early childhood care and education helps prevent lifelong health problems such as obesity, heart disease and substance abuse.

From service providers to business and community leaders, there must be a concerted effort to invest in our chil dren beginning at birth and even before.

You as a voter can also ensure that your community and our state are represented by elected officials who understand the importance of early childhood. This is the opportune time for registered voters to ask candidates how they plan to invest in the long-term economic success of our state.

Here are some questions you can ask that may help discern if a candidate places appropriate importance on early childhood:

Issue 1: Affordable child care for working parent(s) Question: How do you propose helping working parents afford safe, quality child care?

Did you know: As a result of 2011 funding cuts by the Oklahoma Legislature, the state Department of Human Services considered reducing child care subsidies for low-income families.

Stat: 61 percent of children age 6 or younger live in households in which all parents are employed.

Issue 2: Importance of early health and career education Question: Would you support health and career education as state-mandated school curricula?

Did you know: In 2011, House Bill 1270 sought to provide health education to students in grades 6-8. The legislation failed on the House floor by only four votes.

Stat: Oklahoma is one of only two states that does not have health education as part of the school curriculum.

Issue 3: Programs that support families for prevention of child abuse and neglect Question: Would you support a provision of parenting and continuing education resources for at-risk parents?

Did you know: State funding for child abuse prevention was cut by 14.4 percent between 2008 and 2012.

Stat: There are more than 13,000 confirmed cases of child abuse in Oklahoma annually.

Issue 4: Early childhood investment and economic development linkage Did you know: Early childhood shapes our state’s long-term economic growth.

Stat: For every $1 spent on early childhood programs and resources, $7-$10 is returned to a state’s economy.

There is no better time than now to ask the crucial questions about candidates’ stances on early childhood education in our state.

Knutson is vice president of Potts Family Foundation.

Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.

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10.11.2012 at 11:03 Reply

Issue 5: What the candidates' likely voters actually prefer

Question: Do you think Oklahoma's state government should focus more on creating and expanding programs for children from birth to age five, or making it easier and more affordable for one parent to stay at home with children from birth to age five?

Did you know: SoonerPoll actually asked this very question last year.

Stat: Only 26 percent of respondents said programs, while 57 percent said parents. Among women, the margin was 30 percent to 56 percent. Among women with household income under $35,000, the margin was 29 percent to 57 percent.