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Review of Smart Start Conference

Review of Smart Start Conference

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Published by RestoreOKPublicEd
ROPE Board member Lynn Habluetzel and President Jenni White visited the Oklahoma City First Annual SmartStart Conference in August of 2011. Notes were taken, thoughts formed, research compiled and voila - another report! This version does NOT contain the recent study by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA). OCPA commissioned a survey by Sooner Poll that found that a strong majority of likely voters prefer tax relieve over early childhood programs such as pre-school. The UPDATED Smart Start document contains this research.
ROPE Board member Lynn Habluetzel and President Jenni White visited the Oklahoma City First Annual SmartStart Conference in August of 2011. Notes were taken, thoughts formed, research compiled and voila - another report! This version does NOT contain the recent study by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA). OCPA commissioned a survey by Sooner Poll that found that a strong majority of likely voters prefer tax relieve over early childhood programs such as pre-school. The UPDATED Smart Start document contains this research.

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Published by: RestoreOKPublicEd on Aug 24, 2011
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08/25/2011

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1 |
Smart Start Conference Review 
First Annual Smart Start Oklahoma Conference
“Champions for Change”
orHow Much More Than The Already-Allotted One Billion Dollars
Per Year Can “Champions” Justify Spending On Unproven Early
Childhood Programming In Oklahoma?
By Jenni WhiteThursday, August 18, 2011, Restore Oklahoma Public Education (ROPE) board member Lynn Habluetzeland I attended the Smart Start Oklahoma conference as part of our ongoing inquiry into the efficacy,practicality and necessity of 
publicly funded
preK programming. Although we went into the conferencewith an admitted bias against such an endeavor (please see our published articles on the topic here  (White) and here (White)), we felt it important to give the group a chance to communicate their vision to us on their own turf 
 –
so to speak.Sadly, this excursion only reinforced our assessment that publicly funded preK is as impractical a notionas that
of finding a unicorn in one’s backyard and then riding him
(or her) across a rainbow to a land of milk and honey where all of mankind (womankind) will join hands, sing Kum Ba Yah and live happily everafter
 –
especially in the face of crushing national debt.Even more wretched, is that the ideology behind the idea of creating preK Nirvana with taxpayer fundsappears deeply cemented into this group of well-meaning, kind-hearted, but Constitutionally-challengedindividuals. I doubt very seriously if any number of facts presented to preempt their creed would be metwith anything other than contemptuous looks, comments about the hardness of our hearts and/or a full
lecture series on the “
Effects of Poverty and Learning in Young Children
”.
 
Lisa Klein, Keynote Speaker
Our keynote speaker of the morning was Lisa Klein, the Executive Director of the Birth to Five PolicyAlliance (Birth to Five Policy Alliance)
 –
introduced by Ken Levit, Executive Director of the George KaiserFamily Foundation (George Kaiser Family Foundation). Birth to Five is funded by five philanthropic
organizations which are divulged under the “About Us” tab
on their website. Just to the right of this list,are a s
eries of FAQ’s down the gutter
of the page. I was most interested in the following:
Who does the Alliance Fund? 
The Alliance funds state and national not-for-profit organizations whose missions align with the Alliance focus on improving state policies for young, vulnerable children. Rather than fundingindividual work, the Alliance invests in collaborative activities among organizations doing related work in order to accomplish shared goals. The organizations we fund impact or sustain policies instates including but not limited to: California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maine,Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin.
 
2 |
Smart Start Conference Review 
We’ll return to this paragraph and what the ver
biage actually means a la Ken Levit a bit further downthe page.Ms. Klein took the podium and immediately I was
struck by her language and tone. I don’t believe I’ve
ever heard a person at a professional meeting emit quite as many curse words from a dais. I am certainMs. Klein is exuberant about her work and that is laudable, however, I found her lack of decorumdistressing.During her time on the platform, Ms. Klein shared that Oklahoma has lead the country in establishingpublicly funded four-year-old preK programming. Oklahoma
doesn’t have a waiting list for programs and
money is readily available for those seeking to use the programs. In fact, Oklahoma is the state with thehighest subsidy of programming
 –
up to 88% of income.
Oklahoma’s State Department of Education
funds preK to the tune of 10 million dollars which is matched in funding by the Kaiser Family Foundation.Responding to remarks of the opening speaker for the conference (Oklahoma State Treasurer, KenMiller)
who mentioned the Republican aversion to “Nanny State” programs
(in context of a greatermessage that public funding for programs assisting children should be held to a different standard), Ms.Klein
commented, “State programs
[such as Head Start] that are voluntarily used cannot be considered
‘Nanny State’”.
 She mentioned her disappointment at the fact that Oklahoma did not pass legislation to increase
standards for the
(Oklahoma Department of Human Services) program as therewas a need for more, high quality
centers
. She then showed a video of  Chuck Mills (Head Start), a Head Start graduate who is now a successful banker and entrepreneur. Mr. Miles was in the Head Startprogram for one year, from 1965 to 1966. The year he spent in the program allowed him to go on toserve his country in the military and become a successful businessman and individual.Ms. Klein continued from the video by explaining how business and civic leaders can help bolster preKprogramming by encouraging law makers to enhance Reaching for the Stars. Lawmakers should adopt apolicy position supporting public investments in effective high quality early education programs, whilebusiness leaders should promote early learning policies as part of their economic development agenda.Other interested individuals were encouraged to take messages from child advocates and deliver themto lawmakers.Next, a video of Professor James Heckman, Nobel Memorial Prize winner in Economics at the Universityof Chicago was shown called,
(TheHeckman Equation). Professor Heckman believes in a simple strategy for developing
human capitol
,Invest + Develop + Sustain = Gain.Following the video, Ms. Klein wrapped up her remarks by making the following statements:
 
President Obama believes in early childhood education
 
President Obama is offering a Race to the Top grant to fund Early Childhood Education programs
 
These grants can push plans for early learning
 
We
can’t afford not to go for any dollar we can get
 
 
We need to give children an early start because our investment produces a great rate of return
 
Early learning reduces social inequalities and increases our rate of investment in Early ChildhoodEducationMs. Klein finished by channeling Shakespeare and reciting
“What A Piece of Work is Man”
from Hamlet.
 
3 |
Smart Start Conference Review 
Barry Downing, Northrock, Inc.
The next speaker was Barry Downing, founder of  Northrock, Inc. (Northrock, Inc.) out of Kansas, who was introduced by Bob Ross, President and CEO of the Inasmuch Foundation (Inasmuch Foundation). Out of Northrock, Inc., Mr. Downing bore The Opportunity Project 
 –
TOP Early Learning Centers (TheOpportunity Project).
I will admit I did not take notes on Mr. Downing’s remarks. I simply couldn’t get
past his story. He informed the audience that he had grown up in a single parent household. His motherand brother and he had been so desperately poor, Downing had found it necessary to spend his youngeryears working in order just to eat. Though challenging, Downing attributed his experience of growing upin poverty to a highly developed work ethic and a drive that pressed him toward his great successes inlife.
Public/Private Partnerships Panel Discussion
This section was titled, “Leveraging Resources for Oklahoma Children” and included facilitator, Dave
Lopez, Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce, Martha Burger from Chesapeake, Senator Andrew Rice,Representative Randy McDaniel and Ken Levit.Unfortunately, though there was much discussion as to how Oklahoma
could ‘leverage’ businesses to
help get kids into preK programs, there were only two times in the entire 30 minute plus discussionwhere anyone mentioned the word family. Senator Rice mentioned
the need to “look at the wholefamily”
at one point, but I do not remember the context from which he spoke. He also mentioned hisfamily and how putting his kids in a private day care really helped them get ahead once they wereattending their private elementary school. Randy McDaniel was the only panelist who mentioned a needto find ways to support, protect and preserve the family unit as a way of preventing poverty and caringfor young children.This session did, however, contain my most favorite commentary of the conference. Dave Lopez asked aquestion of the panel regarding how they imagined philanthropy as a means by which
to ‘championchildren’. Of course there
were the usual remarks about creating local and national tax breaks fororganizations and individuals supporting the effort of early childhood education, but it was the responseof Ken Levit that really did it for me.In response to this question, Mr. Levit took the floor for a number of minutes to explain how importantphilanthropic organizations like the Kaiser Family Foundation were, because they made monies availableto non-profits for research. The data generated from researching Early Childhood issues could then beused to secure public funding.
“As much money as there is in philanthropy, there isn’t enou
gh. We must have public funding
, Levitsaid just before he went on to add that really good researchers are expensive and non-profits musthave a way to be able to afford the research necessary to secure needed public sector funding.

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