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Participation in State-Funded Prekindergarten in Oklahoma

This REL Southwest report examines student participation in Oklahoma’s state-funded prekindergarten (preK) program, which the state offers to all four-year-olds. REL Southwest conducted the study in partnership with the Oklahoma State Department of Education and the Southwest Early Childhood Education Research Partnership to provide comprehensive evidence on disparities in student participation that might indicate challenges in state-funded preK program access or use.

The study used Oklahoma State Department of Education administrative records to calculate the percentages of first-time public school kindergarten students in the 2014/15–2018/19 school years who participated in state-funded preK in the prior year, both overall and for student groups defined by geographic locale and student characteristics.

Key findings include:

  • A large majority (74 percent) of Oklahoma’s first-time public school kindergarten students in 2014/15–2018/19 attended state-funded preK in the prior year.
  • Participation was higher in rural districts (82 percent) than in nonrural (urban or suburban) districts (71 percent).
  • Participation was higher among students eligible for special education services (87 percent) than among other students (73 percent).
  • Compared with White students (74 percent), participation was higher for American Indian students (79 percent) but lower for Black students (69 percent) and Pacific Islander students (52 percent).
  • Participation was higher for students eligible for reduced-price lunch (80 percent) than for students eligible for free lunch (74 percent) or students not eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (73 percent).
  • Participation was related to students’ distance (in estimated travel time) from state-funded preK and other early learning sites. Students who lived farther from a state-funded preK site were less likely to participate in state-funded preK, whereas students who lived farther from a Head Start center were more likely to participate in state-funded preK.

These findings can inform next steps for building knowledge of the barriers to participation in state-funded preK. With that information, Oklahoma state and local agencies can work toward addressing those barriers through efforts such as campaigns to raise awareness of the benefits of early childhood education and of early learning and care options. Note that the report describes study limitations that should be considered when interpreting these findings.

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