Oklahoma's early learning programs are among the best in the country, but could be improved under President Barack Obama's proposal to expand early childhood education by raising federal tobacco taxes.
The initiative would provide 4,337 more children from low- and moderate-income families across the state with access to preschool and prekindergarten programs and prevent 25,800 kids from becoming addicted smokers, according to a report released Wednesday by nine organizations that focus on early learning and public health.
Smokers would pay an extra 94 cents for a pack of cigarettes under the proposal, which would raise an estimated $35 million for programs in Oklahoma not already funded by the state, officials said.
Public schools in Oklahoma are not required to offer early learning programs, but a majority of districts offer prekindergarten classes for 4-year-olds, said Sherry Fair, a spokeswoman for the state Education Department.
Conversely, a much smaller number of districts offer preschool classes for 3-year-olds, Fair said.
“Oklahoma is doing a fantastic job of serving its 4-year-olds,” said Helen Blank, a spokeswoman for the National Women's Law Center who helped research the report. “The state would be able to use these dollars to serve 3-year-olds.”