First Annual Smart Start Oklahoma Conference “Champions for Change” or

How Much More Than The Already-Allotted One Billion Dollars Per Year Can “Champions” Justify Spending On Unproven Early Childhood Programming In Oklahoma?
By Jenni White

Thursday, August 18, 2011, Restore Oklahoma Public Education (ROPE) board member Lynn Habluetzel and 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 conference with 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 notion as 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 ever after – especially in the face of crushing national debt. Even more wretched, is that the ideology behind the idea of creating preK Nirvana with taxpayer funds appears deeply cemented into this group of well-meaning, kind-hearted, but Constitutionally-challenged individuals. I doubt very seriously if any number of facts presented to preempt their creed would be met with 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 Policy Alliance (Birth to Five Policy Alliance) – introduced by Ken Levit, Executive Director of the George Kaiser Family 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 series 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 funding individual 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 in states including but not limited to: California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin. 1|Smart Start Conference Review

We’ll return to this paragraph and what the verbiage actually means a la Ken Levit a bit further down the 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 certain Ms. Klein is exuberant about her work and that is laudable, however, I found her lack of decorum distressing. During her time on the platform, Ms. Klein shared that Oklahoma has lead the country in establishing publicly 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 the highest 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, Ken Miller) who mentioned the Republican aversion to “Nanny State” programs (in context of a greater message 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 “Reaching for the Stars” (Oklahoma Department of Human Services) program as there was 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 Start program for one year, from 1965 to 1966. The year he spent in the program allowed him to go on to serve 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 preK programming by encouraging law makers to enhance Reaching for the Stars. Lawmakers should adopt a policy position supporting public investments in effective high quality early education programs, while business 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 them to lawmakers. Next, a video of Professor James Heckman, Nobel Memorial Prize winner in Economics at the University of Chicago was shown called, “The Heckman Equation: The Economics of Human Potential” (The Heckman 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 Childhood Education

Ms. Klein finished by channeling Shakespeare and reciting “What A Piece of Work is Man” from Hamlet. 2|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 (The Opportunity 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 mother and brother and he had been so desperately poor, Downing had found it necessary to spend his younger years working in order just to eat. Though challenging, Downing attributed his experience of growing up in poverty to a highly developed work ethic and a drive that pressed him toward his great successes in life.

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 discussion where anyone mentioned the word family. Senator Rice mentioned the need to “look at the whole family” at one point, but I do not remember the context from which he spoke. He also mentioned his family and how putting his kids in a private day care really helped them get ahead once they were attending their private elementary school. Randy McDaniel was the only panelist who mentioned a need to find ways to support, protect and preserve the family unit as a way of preventing poverty and caring for young children. This session did, however, contain my most favorite commentary of the conference. Dave Lopez asked a question of the panel regarding how they imagined philanthropy as a means by which to ‘champion children’. Of course there were the usual remarks about creating local and national tax breaks for organizations and individuals supporting the effort of early childhood education, but it was the response of 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 important philanthropic organizations like the Kaiser Family Foundation were, because they made monies available to non-profits for research. The data generated from researching Early Childhood issues could then be used to secure public funding. “As much money as there is in philanthropy, there isn’t enough. We must have public funding”, Levit said just before he went on to add that really good researchers are expensive and non-profits must have a way to be able to afford the research necessary to secure needed public sector funding.

3|Smart Start Conference Review

David Blatt, Oklahoma Policy Institute
After lunch and the Appreciation Award conferral upon Governor and Kim Henry, David Blatt and his associate Gene Perry took the podium to present the “Fiscal Map of Early Care and Learning Programs in Oklahoma”. The handout of the slide presentation given to the attendees can be found in Appendix A. I will go into this information more in detail in the summation portion of this review.

Breakout Sessions
There were two breakout sessions offered to attendees, one could attend an Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness Board Meeting or a Smart Start Communities Meeting. Lynn and I chose to attend neither due to the possibility of securing a meeting with a nearby legislative staffer on another issue. Pat McGuigan of attended the Board Meeting, however, and posted, “School readiness partnership plans to make recommendations to Governor Mary Fallin” (McGuigan).

Public Hearing on Governor Recommendations
This was the final activity of the day. Lynn and I, again, did not attend, but the document produced for Governor Fallin and reviewed at this hearing can be found here (Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness Recommendations for 2012).

The clash of ideologies between ROPE and this group of Early Childhood interests is nothing short of Titan, I fear. For example:  The idea that the term ‘Nanny State’ cannot possibly include programs for which participation is VOLUNTARY was past the tipping point of logical. o Government at any level becomes “Nanny” when public money feeds it to unmanageable size in order for it to provide things to people who could otherwise be taught to provide for themselves but won’t be because the government “Nanny” doesn’t think they could ever do it well enough. Successful businessman and entrepreneur Chuck Mills is successful for no other reason than the one year he spent in Head Start? o Appeal to authority maybe? One year? His mother looks like a pretty caring person from the picture – I bet that had nothing to do with his success. While I congratulate Chuck heartily on his accomplishments, the tie to Head Start was completely non-sequitur. Children were often referred to as human capital (Lamey) and tied to the term ‘return on investment’ - to establish a pipeline through the business community? The term ‘investment’

4|Smart Start Conference Review

here, apparently equates with those tax payer funds provided through state and federal budgeting. o Shockingly none of the perpetrators of public early childhood on the stage that day seemed to understand that they had reduced children to soulless creatures in some corporate machine in order to perpetrate funding of their programs. I am sure Barry Downing means well, but how does this man pull himself up by his bootstraps, admit the valuable lessons he learned from his struggles and then specifically set about to prevent other kids from having the same opportunities? Far and away the most pretentious, patronizing and perplexing point of discovery was that philanthropists don’t really want to spend their money for specific solutions to the problems they decry. No. Philanthropists, instead, see themselves as super heroes with the combined roles of “Protector of the Non-Profit” and “Conduit for the Dissemination of Public Monies to Protected Non-Profits”. o Though Ken Levit seems to believe that, “…as much money as there is in philanthropy there will never be enough…” I would challenge him to put Kaiser’s money into the actual programs they espouse, not into research to provide PUBLIC money for the programs they espouse and see how long it lasts.

The study commissioned on Head Start (Burke)by the US Government in 1988 during the reauthorization of the program (results of which were not released until January of 2010) found no real lasting benefit across the 5000 children studied while enrolled in Head Start. A study by CATO Institute (Schaeffer) also found, “….Oklahoma’s achievement scores on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, AKA “the nation’s report-card”) suggest that the state’s universal preschool program is at best ineffective and at worst harmful to student achievement.” Another, comprehensive study (Burke) comparing the preK programs of Oklahoma and Georgia concludes, “The experiences in Georgia and Oklahoma suggest that a federal program to encourage states to offer universal preschool would be costly and ineffective in delivering the significant, long-term benefits that its supporters promise.” Obviously, some very well-heeled, well-respected researchers do not agree with the Smart Start community’s assessment of the ‘return on investment’ for public preK – certainly not well enough to advocate for additional public funding. Speaking of funding, what does Oklahoma spend on publicly funded preK programming? According to David Blatt’s analysis, Oklahoma spends a total of 1.5 BILLION dollars on early childhood programs! The majority of this funding comes from the federal government through health and wellness subsidies such as TANF, SNAP and WIC, however, early education amounts to 30% of the total Early Childhood budget. Additionally, although OPI records the amount spent by the state Department of Education as $195+ million dollars, as evidenced by the notes scrawled on the slide entitled FY2010 Snapshot Major Funding Sources: Federal and State (page 10), that amount could NOT have included the amount the state aid

5|Smart Start Conference Review

school funding formula provides preK 3 through kindergarten programming. Adding these 365 million dollars not previously added brings the total spent by Oklahoma tax payers to over 560 MILLION dollars. How much more must Oklahoman’s pay for a program that provides AT BEST mixed results? Now, though the layers of bureaucracy associated with public early childhood programming become evident the longer one looks at the figures supplied by OPI, Oklahoma early childhood supporters are begging Governor Mary Fallin to apply for a Race to the Top “Early Learning” grant (Ed.Gov) to get yet MORE money and add more bureaucracy to an already bloated system. For example, contained in the Oklahoma partnership for School Readiness Recommendations (OPSR) for 2012 is a recommendation to collect personal data from ALL children in Oklahoma early learning programs. As we’ve detailed in our paper on the Common Core Standards and Race to the Top (al), this stipulation is strategically placed. RTT grants ALL require student data collection through a P20 database system. Never has anyone been able to explain to us how collecting data on babies will “drive improvements in early childhood program outcomes.” What’s it going to cost to run this monstrosity? Who’s going to collect data? What data will be collected? How much bigger does government grow to provide such a database? All these questions and more will undoubtedly be answered monetarily by state taxpayers only after such a system is in place. Also contained in the OPSR recommendations specifically in order to get an RTT Early Learning grant is the Education Department’s favorite stick for beating students and teachers alike – ASSESSMENTS! Yes, we will be testing babies for ‘school readiness’. Maureen Kelleher (Kelleher) reports in the journal EdWeek, “The proposed assessment requirements for the new Race to the Top early-learning competition are sparking concerns from some preschool advocates, who fear the provisions could lead to high-stakes testing of young children and unfair accountability measures imposed on educators.” This should be concerning to any advocate involved in public preschool especially in light of some of the testing issues (Brevard) being currently reported (Sikes). Beyond the unintended consequences behind such programming elements, a recent paper by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (Krvaric) has found that compliance with federal programs like the ESEA provides significant barriers to fulfilling the actual policy goals ascribed. “In addition, fiscal and administrative requirements often lead to expensive and time-consuming compliance processes not related to improving student achievement or school success.” Then there’s the study from George Mason University that asks, “Do Intergovernmental Grants Create Ratchets in State and Local Taxes?” (Crowley)The answer being, “Our results clearly demonstrate that grant funding to state and local governments results in higher own source revenue and taxes in the future to support the programs initiated with the federal grant monies.”

6|Smart Start Conference Review

Not even us “hard-hearted” conservatives want children to suffer poverty or illiteracy; we simply have different methods for solving these issues than our friends in the Smart Start community – philanthropy for charity, not philanthropy to create avenues for government intervention. Unfortunately, the root of both the problems of poverty and illiteracy is the degradation of the family (Schlafly). With our country falling into moral decline and the role of churches in society being drastically undercut out of an irrational and inappropriate fear of violating church/state separation, it becomes harder and harder to create appropriate, private family support mechanisms. Current social programs such as TANF, WIC and SNAP only Band-Aid the clear and present danger to America’s children – out of wedlock births and poverty caused by an upside down view of family structure and misaligned priorities. Such programs only trap users in a system from which there is little incentive to leave, because they can be used in virtual perpetuity, stifling ability and drive toward selfsufficiency, all the while providing little to no education on the means of escape. Scads and oodles of private child care programs exist in different iterations across the state. There is no reason not to allow low income families to use a state stipend for any private program they choose. But, instead of leaving users attached to the system for eons, wean users off via increased co-pays over a six month to one year time period. If the using family is still unable to subsist, there are numerous shelters and churches ready to help – and goodness knows, maybe one or two kids (or parents!) will get so sick of being poor, they’ll learn how to pull themselves up like Barry Downing and go on to make millions down the road! Social engineering through publicly supported social programming won’t fix social ills. Just like junkies and alcoholics can only get better once they hit bottom and decide they need help, providing individuals avenues through which to continue failed behaviors won’t provide impetus to succeed. Humans must learn to trust the humanity of others and the resilience of the human spirit, or we are doomed to fail all of society over time, not just those in need.

7|Smart Start Conference Review

Appendix A

8|Smart Start Conference Review

9|Smart Start Conference Review

10 | S m a r t S t a r t C o n f e r e n c e R e v i e w

11 | S m a r t S t a r t C o n f e r e n c e R e v i e w

12 | S m a r t S t a r t C o n f e r e n c e R e v i e w

13 | S m a r t S t a r t C o n f e r e n c e R e v i e w

14 | S m a r t S t a r t C o n f e r e n c e R e v i e w

15 | S m a r t S t a r t C o n f e r e n c e R e v i e w

16 | S m a r t S t a r t C o n f e r e n c e R e v i e w

Works Cited
al, White et. Restore Oklahoma Public Education. May 2011. August 2011 <>. Birth to Five Policy Alliance. n.d. <>. Brevard, Sandra. Grumpy Educators. 21 August 2011. <>. Burke, Lindsey. Heritage Foundation. 14 January 2010. 22 August 2011 <>. —. Heritage Foundation. 14 May 2009. 22 August 2011 <>. Crowley, Russel S. Sobel and George R. Mercatus Center, George Washington University. August 2010. August 2011 <>. Ed.Gov. 2011. <>. George Kaiser Family Foundation. n.d. <>. Head Start. Chuck Mills. 10 January 2011. 23 August 2011 <>. Inasmuch Foundation. n.d. <>. Kelleher, Maureen. "Critics worry that Early Learning Challenge may lead to high-stakes testing." Ed Week (2011). Krvaric, Melissa Junge and Sheara. American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. 9 July 2011. 21 August 2011 <>. McGuigan, Patrick B. 19 August 2011. 22 August 2011 < recommendations_to_Governor_Mary_Fallin>. Northrock, Inc. n.d. <>. Oklahoma Department of Human Services. n.d. <>. Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness Recommendations for 2012. 9 August 2011. 22 August 2011 <>. 17 | S m a r t S t a r t C o n f e r e n c e R e v i e w

Schaeffer, Adam. CATO Institute. 27 June 2008. 22 August 2011 <>. Schlafly, Phyllis. The Phyllis Schlafly Report. April 2000. 16 August 2011 <>. Sikes, Bob. Scathing Purple Musings. August 2011. August 2011 <>. The Heckman Equation. n.d. 23 August 2011 <>. The Opportunity Project. n.d. <>. White, Jenni. "Let's Not Be So Quick To Enter This Race." 30 July 2011. August 2011 <>. —. "Universal Pre-K. What Would Our Founders Say?" August 2011. <>.

18 | S m a r t S t a r t C o n f e r e n c e R e v i e w

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful