Candidates Weigh In On Early Childhood Education In Oklahoma

Monday, September 13th 2010, 11:13 am
By: News On 6

By Ashli Sims, The News on 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- The two women vying to be Oklahoma's next governor faced off in Tulsa for the first time since earning their nominations. 

Democrat Jari Askins and Republican Mary Fallin talked early childhood education Monday morning during a forum at Tulsa Educare. 

Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins got her hands dirty with some of her youngest constituents, but there was no dirty politics in the first faceoff between her and rival Congresswoman Mary Fallin. 

Next door to toddlers learning their first lessons, the candidates for governor pledged their support.

"I know that a continued investment in early childhood gives us an opportunity to convince the business leaders that we're trying to recruit for new jobs in this state," said Jari Askins, (D) Governor candidate.

"Education is going to be our key to growing out of the recession that we're in to creating a better educated workforce," said Mary Fallin, (R) Governor candidate.

And at times they sounded like they were reading from the same script.

"Make sure that government programs are effective and efficient to make sure we're spending our money wisely," said Fallin.

"We have short dollars, there's no question. So, we have to be smart about how we expand what's working," said Askins.

Askins says we need to weather these tough economic times by pushing the budget to the top of the legislative to do list.

"We need to do our budget first so we can make sure we're filling the priorities that we expect to have, children should always be our priority," said Askins.

Fallin emphasizes following the Educare model and tapping private dollars when public money runs short.

"It is very true that we're in some tough financial times, our state has had to make some cutbacks financially. But one of the ways we can help improve education and student ability to learn is to build community partnerships. And that's what Educare has done," Fallin said.

The governor candidates shared the stage with the two women who are hoping to be the state's next top educator.

Janet Barresi and State Senator Susan Paddack also spoke out on early education. Barresi is credited with establishing the first charter school in the state. 

Paddack, a former school teacher, has served in the state senate for the last six years.

"There are dollars that are spent that we could redirect toward more classroom instruction. There are ways we can bring down fixed costs for our school districts by collaboratives, purchasing, buying cooperatives if you will," said Susan Paddack, State Superintendent candidate.

"I think it is very important that we as a state make the decision to stop social promotion beyond the third grade. If a child is not reading or doing math at the third grade level, they should not become a fourth grader," said Janet Barresi, State Superintendent candidate.

Congresswoman Mary Fallin also talked about ending the need for social promotion. She wants to make sure more dollars are spent in the classroom, not on administration. 

Richard Cooper, who's running as an independent to be the next state superintendent, was not at Monday's forum.

George Kaiser Family Foundation Executive Director Ken Levit delivered the opening remarks, and the forum was moderated by Inasmuch Foundation President and CEO Bob Ross.

The candidates took a tour of Tulsa Educare following the forum.