Oklahoma Oilman Continues Pushing Early Childhood Education

Article excerpt

George Kaiser, local oilman, banking executive and philanthropist, told Tulsa business leaders Thursday to continue throwing their clout and resources behind early childhood education as a way to tackle vexing poverty issues and stimulate the economy.

Kaiser, who helped bankroll the $8.5 million, cutting-edge Tulsa Educare community center planned in the crime-ridden Kendall- Whittier neighborhood, said equal opportunity is the social contract of American life and that must be applied to public education.

I think that most of us have grown up with this inconsistency in our thinking: A strong emotional commitment to the concept of equal opportunity, and a suppressed, secret intellectual conclusion that genes play a more important part in cognitive potential than experience, Kaiser said during the Tulsa Metro Chamber's State of Education luncheon.

Oklahoma has been recognized nationally as a leader in the development of early childhood education, but the demand for such programs here far outweighs supply, Kaiser said.

In Tulsa, there are only 104 federally funded early Head Start slots for roughly 10,000 eligible children age 3 and under, and in Oklahoma City there are only 120 slots for about 13,000 children the same age.

In many rural areas of Oklahoma, the situation is worse, said Kaiser, chairman of Bank of Oklahoma Financial Corp. and president and CEO of Kaiser Francis Oil Co.

Ground was broken last September on Tulsa Educare, a state-of- the-art community center backed by a public-private partnership that is designed to break the cycle of poverty through early childhood education. The center will serve 200 at-risk children from birth to age 5, as well as their families, and provide a range of educational, medical and social services and support.

Numerous studies have shown low-income children gain dramatically greater opportunity for emotional, social, financial and learning success if they are given intensive educational opportunity at a very young age. The concept of places like Tulsa Educare, Kaiser said, is to intervene earlier in an at-risk child's life instead of treating the symptoms later.

Through his family foundation, George Kaiser put up $2 million toward the Tulsa Educare effort. The Irving Harris and Buffett Family foundations were also founding donors with $1 million in contributions. …