How Preschool Works in Oklahoma

Takeaway: Oklahoma offers helpful, detailed information that enables families to understand their options for child care within the state. It requires and oversees licensure for both center-based and home-based care. One of only three states to offer universal pre-K, Oklahoma is a model of transparency and accessibility.

Overview

Oklahoma is widely considered to have one of the best preschool programs in the country. The state offers public preschool for all four-year-olds — one of the reasons why enrollment has drastically climbed since the program’s inception in 1998. Increased public funding has in turn allowed for kindergarten programs to develop more advanced curricula. Children who are 4 years old (as of September 1 of the current year) are eligible for voluntary public pre-K programs. All preschool programs in Oklahoma emphasize family involvement and a healthy mix of individual and group learning to encourage the development of young students.

Oklahoma’s pre-K programs strive to strengthen the intellectual, linguistic, physical, and emotional skills that enable children to build positive relationships and easily transition into kindergarten. There are strict guidelines for how schools should assist motor, academic, social, and creative development.

For children ages 4 and younger, Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services publishes a helpful guide that describes the types of different care providers available, offers tips for how to locate high-quality care, provides licensing information, advises parents on how to find the right providers for their children, and outlines options for financial assistance, including subsidies. Oklahoma was one of the first states to initiate a voluntary rating system that takes into account a center’s compliance with licensing regulations, caregiver education, parental involvement, learning environment, and accreditation. Additional information and support is provided by the Oklahoma Child Care Resource and Referral Association, a nonprofit organization that serves parents and care providers.

Center-Based Care

In general, center-based care in Oklahoma is defined as an operation that is open for more than 30 hours a week and provides care for more than 12 children. It can occur in a variety of settings, such as community and religious centers, homes, and buildings specifically designed for child care purposes. Staff-to-child ratios vary based on the ages of the children and whether or not there are mixed-age groups. For infants (up to 12 months), the ratio is 1:4, with a maximum class size of 8. For toddlers (12 to 23 months), the ratio is 1:6, and the maximum class size is 12. For 2-year-olds, the ratio is 1:8, and the maximum class size is 16. For 3-year-olds, the ratio is 1:12, and the maximum class size is 24. For 4- and 5-year-olds, the ratio is 1:15, with a maximum class size of 30.

Home-Based Care

Like many other states, Oklahoma offers licensed care that occurs in a home-based setting. They are required to meet designated staff-to-child ratios and provide documentation of developmental progress. There are two types of licensed home-based care: family child care homes, and large family child care homes. In regular family child care homes, up to seven children are permitted, and one caregiver may attend to them all. If three or more of those children are under age two, however, two caregivers are required. Large family child care homes may have up to 12 children and three caregivers. The required staff-to-child ratio varies depending on the number of children under age 2.

Unlicensed Care

Unlicensed programs are illegal in the state of Oklahoma, although there are certain instances when licenses are not legally required. Exemptions are made if the care is provided in a child’s home or by a relative; if a program is in session for less than 15 hours a week; or if a program offers drop-in care while the parents remain on the premises. Oklahoma emphasizes that in the case of unlicensed care, parents are responsible for overseeing the safety of their children.

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