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THOMPSON: It’s the Trauma!

Educare I have never been so proud of Oklahoma. We just opened the nation’s sixth Educare community center. As I pulled into the parking lot to hear Nobel laureate James Heckman, a local NPR report set the stage. A Department of Environmental Quality official broke down crying as he recounted an anecdote about his late mentor (an urban planner who we all admired) and the long line of children with asthma in a school clinic.

Educare2 After Heckman explained high-quality preschool is 40% more cost effective than investing in adolescents, and that the key to educational success is socio-emotional, our Schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett and Mental Health Director Teri White did not miss a beat. Oklahoma is near the top in grandparents raising children and in families lacking health care, as well as #1 in incarcerating women. Oklahoma City's school system has fewer than 40,000 students and the city has more than 5,000 children being raised by grandparents. Think of the "great toxic stress" of Oklahoma's 3,500 school kids with their mom in prison, said the education leader. "It’s the trauma!"  which keeps children from learning, explained the mental health director. When 1/4th of our state’s citizens have a mental health or addiction illness, we must abandon the blame game and focus on TREATMENT.

Unpredictably, sixty-something year-old businessmen volunteered intimate stories in support of our traditional liberal speakers. Then the conservative Republican Director of Human Services recounted his Road to Damascus regarding preschool. Oklahoma had 50,000 births last year, with 30,000 on Medicaid, and 15,000 of those babies do not have a parent with a high school diploma.

And as we’ve squabbled over educational accountability, our obesity rate has grown from 15% to 30%.

Its is not surprising, given the talent at the seminar, that Oklahoma consistently gets A’s and B’s on its educational and social service provider standards. It’s the lack of funding required to address the legacy of generational poverty that brings us down. Our death rate of young children is up by 16% and among teens it’s up by 40%.

Yale’s Sonya Anderson of the First Five Years Fund provided more cognitive science and Robert Dugger of the articulated a transformative political vision. Then Dugger asked "what has happened to Oklahoma?" He had led the cleanup of the Penn Square Bank fiasco in the 1980s which nearly brought down the world's banking system. Oklahoma had a 20 year jump on the rest of the nation in allowing bogus financial engineering to produce a virtual depression. (The statistical models that brought financial ruin would have worked, however, if their basic assumption held true. Drill deep enough is western Oklahoma, said a geological theory and infinite natural gas supplies were available. Sound familiar?)

Oklahoma also #3 in incarcerating men, and we’ve seen the results of imprisoning "people who we are mad at, not just people who we are afraid of."

Then we followed Texas and produced one of the nation’s largest "bubbles" with State NCLB scores soaring while NAEP scores stagnated. But Oklahoma has become a leader in high-quality, universal preschool and finally the Oklahoma City School System offers full-day kindergarten for all. It is sad that my liberal colleagues in education have lagged so far behind a Chamber of Commerce which is one of the most conservative in America, but now we are uniting to provide enlightened and humane services that respect the whole of human beings. - John Thompson

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It's great to see these partners come together. Next stop: strong connections with K-3.

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