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Stimulus Dollars Give 3-Year-Olds Early Jump on Education

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Millions of stimulus dollars will be used to help build three early childhood development centers for 3-year-olds to begin their educations. Millions of stimulus dollars will be used to help build three early childhood development centers for 3-year-olds to begin their educations.
A portion of the funding, $15 million, for the program will come from $100 million in stimulus that is set aside to be used at the governor's discretion. A portion of the funding, $15 million, for the program will come from $100 million in stimulus that is set aside to be used at the governor's discretion.

By Jennifer Loren, Oklahoma Impact Team

TULSA, Oklahoma -- Education leaders across the state are looking at making massive budget cuts in their districts, but one program is receiving tens of millions of dollars in funding.

As the Oklahoma Impact Team found out, stimulus money is making the program possible and if it's successful, it could change early childhood education across the state.

Fifteen million dollars in stimulus money is going toward a program that would have children starting their educations at just 3-years-old.

Those involved said it's an investment in Oklahoma's future.

"Without a doubt we're going to lose teachers from our workforce, quality teachers," said State Superintendent Sandy Garrett.

As Oklahoma school districts deal with more and more budget cuts, layoffs are looming. Governor Brad Henry said help is on the way, he just hasn't said how.

"We have a plan. We're proceeding forward. There's no need to panic," Henry said.

But before the real crisis hit, back in August, Governor Henry awarded a grant to Tulsa Public Schools, $15 million in federal stimulus money for an early childhood development program.

The money comes from $100 million set aside to be used at the governor's discretion.

The stimulus money will be used to help build three early childhood development centers where 3-year-olds will begin their educations, which is one year earlier than other early childhood programs.

"Those early years are so critical, in not only their academic success, but success down the road, being responsible citizens, productive citizens," said Andy McKenzie, Tulsa Public Schools.

McKenzie is in charge of spending the stimulus money for Tulsa Public Schools.

He said it has created an opportunity for Tulsa and the state to excel in at least one area of education.

"This will give us some wonderful opportunities, I think a chance in a lifetime, opportunity to really grow the facilities and the availability of those programs across our district," McKenzie said.

The $15 million in stimulus money is being matched by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and then Tulsa Public Schools put in $2 million more from their pot of Title One stimulus money.

If a bond issue passes next year, that's another $15 million, bringing the total to nearly $50 million for the 3-year-old program.

Larry Smith, TPS, said, "It's absolutely been a blessing."

As part of the Title One program, Smith is one of the few district administrators who's had the privilege of spending stimulus money.

He said it's been tough having the money everyone wants and needs.

"When you have federal dollars and everyone else doesn't, it does put you in a position that you want to try to help and support everything, but we have to keep them in the rules of Title One," Smith said.

But, he said, it is important to fund programs like these because they will make a difference in the children's futures.

"Research shows it. It all begins at such a young age and anything we can do to build on what we're already doing is absolutely vital for us to, in the long term, to graduate a higher quality student," Smith said.

It is an initial investment in Tulsa that could soon be expanded across the state.

"We know there's great return on the dollar for those early years. It's much easier to start there than to remediate afterwards," McKenzie said.

At this point the program director said it's too early to say exactly how many teaching jobs will be created with this program.

All he could is that there will be jobs available sometime in the future.

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