Arlene Schnitzer: A Generous and Fearless Advocate for Children

Arlene Schnitzer: A Generous and Fearless Advocate for Children

Notable Oregon philanthropist Arlene Schnitzer, who passed away on April 4, 2020 at the age of 91, was perhaps best known for her lifetime of support for the arts. Arlene’s commitment to women’s health and children’s issues may be less recognized among the broader public, but at Children’s Institute, we are very aware of, and grateful for, this thread in her giving.

Gary Withers, Children’s Institute’s first president, co-founder, and long-time board member, worked with Arlene on many projects. “When CI was in its earliest stages, we had a meeting with Arlene to tell her about the project and ask for her support. And Arlene said, ‘Well, let’s just add up how much we’ve given annually and recently to causes related to children.’ And of course at that time, Harold and Arlene were well known for their support for OHSU and the arts. But we were adding up their contributions to causes just related to kids, and I’m not sure whether it was over one year or two or three years, but it was millions! And I sat there and I thought, Well this is the story that nobody knows.”

Arlene became a founding member of the Children’s Institute board, helping to shape the vision for work that improved the lives of many Oregon children and families. According to Withers, Arlene chose this work because “She loved the concept that if we invest in early childhood, that we would be able to avoid a lot of the downstream challenges that children face, particularly children with high adverse childhood experience scores. She was a believer in the power of mitigation that is inherent in great early childhood programming.”

CI’s Early Works initiative in particular meant a great deal to Arlene, as she knew it made a tangible difference for families. “She and Harold spent time visiting national models, but were committed to an approach that would engage with public schools and meet the specific needs of Oregon children,” recalls Adarkar.  

“Arlene and Harold had a really strong bond to this community,” says Barbara Hall, who worked with Arlene for 36 years, eventually becoming the executive director of The Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation. “They were true Portlanders. They were both from immigrant families that came from Russia, and I think they were interesting because they were not raised with great wealth. They really earned that wealth, and they felt very strongly that this community was what allowed them to flourish. So they gave to every nonprofit in the city that they felt helped make the city a better place to live.”

Arlene was interested in improving quality of life, and she liked to be able to see the results. She felt that improving the lives of families was one of the surest ways to strengthen the community she felt so connected to. Her giving was pragmatic; she asked, “What project would have a direct impact on my neighbors?” and then she chose a leader she believed in, whose work was solving the problems she saw as important.  

Swati Adarkar, president and CEO of Children’s Institute, was one of those leaders, and enjoyed a special relationship with Arlene. “When we started CI,” Adarkar says, “I had no plan to become the executive director. I’d envisioned partnership, rather than a CEO. I had two young kids at the time. Arlene believed in mentoring and encouraging women to take leadership roles and helped build my confidence, because she was such a strong and fearless leader. I watched how she would pick her moments to strategically express her point of view and how effectively she could persuade those around her to be bolder and more courageous.” 

“Arlene put a lot of faith in Swati,” says Hall. “She really felt like CI’s work was the first thing Swati thought of when she woke up in the morning, and she probably noodled it until she fell asleep at night—what she wanted to do to make a difference, using Children’s Institute as the vehicle to help make that happen.”

Withers agrees. “Arlene had a level of trust and confidence in Swati and the mission and vision of Children’s Institute that allowed her to remain a very long-term investor even as the issues that Arlene faced with her health, and the complexity of the issues being addressed by Children’s Institute, began to eclipse what she could attend to personally.”

Adarkar deeply appreciates the trust. “Arlene was the kind of rare supporter who identified the issues she cared about and the people she trusted to move the work forward. She empowered me and the rest of CI staff to do what we knew needed to be done.”  

Generosity and the spirit of community will be such an important part of Arlene’s legacy. “As a philanthropist and as a person,” says Hall, “Arlene never met a problem that she didn’t want to try and help fix. Never. And I love that about her. She always had room for one more thing on her plate. That was probably what I loved about her the most. She was never numb to anything.”  

Withers echoed this sentiment: “Arlene had a way of making friends for life. It was her authenticity, and her integrity, and her candor. The word ‘philanthropy’ means love of humankind, and she had this huge heart that just really loved people.” 

At Children’s Institute, we hope our ongoing work is an expression of our gratitude to Arlene for her role in the development and health of our organization. We will miss her humor, warmth, sharp instincts, and commitment to making our state a more vibrant and healthy place to be a child.

On Purpose: Stories from the Lives of Oregon Nonprofit Leaders

On Purpose: Stories from the Lives of Oregon Nonprofit Leaders

On Purpose, a new book by David Dickson, profiles thirty-four Oregon nonprofit leaders, and features Swati Adarkar, CI’s president and CEO, in the chapter titled, “The Pragmatic Idealist.”

Dickson writes of Adarkar’s childhood trips to India, which shaped her understanding of justice, equity, and opportunity. “I became increasingly concerned with addressing poverty and social mobility, the balance between individual responsibility and what we owe to the community,” Adarkar is quoted as saying. Dickson shares that Adarkar’s worldview is at the “intersection of idealism, values, and what can be accomplished.” 

The chapter discusses key strategies and victories in Children’s Institute’s history. Among these are the launch of Early Works, in which demonstration sites in Portland and Yoncalla address the achievement gap by focusing on strategies to affect school readiness, as well as key legislative victories such as securing $39 million to expand Oregon’s Head Start program and a first-time state grant of $1 million for Early Head Start.

 

Cover of the book On Purpose

Other leaders featured in On Purpose include Duncan Campbell, CI founding board member and founder of the mentoring program Friends of the Children; Alberto Moreno, who began the Oregon Latino Health Coalition with the goal of serving undocumented women who were ineligible for prenatal health care; and Kelly Poe, who laid the groundwork for the creation of the Treasure Valley Children’s Relief Nursery, which has had great success serving the families of remote Malheur County.

Order a copy of the book here.

Bonamici Report: Child  Care in Crisis

Bonamici Report: Child Care in Crisis

What We’re Reading

Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici has issued a report on the state of child care in Oregon and across the nation. “Child Care in Crisis: Solutions to Support Working Families, Children and Educators,” is informed by conversations with providers, early childhood educators, and parents. Their stories illustrate in clear terms that healthy child care infrastructure is essential.

As our country grapples with systemic racism and ongoing gaps in access to opportunity, Bonamici’s report places child care issues squarely in that context:

“Fixing the child care system is also an issue of racial justice. The child care workforce is overwhelmingly women, and predominantly women of color. We must make sure child care providers and early childhood educators are paid a living wage that reflects the value of their highly-skilled work. Along with other barriers, families of color face income gaps that make quality child care even less affordable. Black, Indigenous, and other children of color are more likely to be in the least supported child care settings, and many child care settings are segregated by race. Resources must be distributed in a way that focuses on equity and on dismantling the systemic underinvestment in Black, Indigenous, and other families and workers of color.”

The report describes the pre-COVID child care crisis in Oregon, the ways the pandemic has exacerbated this crisis and created new problems, policy efforts to stabilize the industry during the pandemic, and a proposed path forward, including specific legislative actions to increase resources for families and the child care workforce.

An Existing Child Care Crisis in Oregon

Bonamici’s report says that the existing child care crisis in our state boils down to three main issues:

There is a vast, unmet need for high-quality, affordable child care.

“Early childhood education fosters children’s social and emotional development and prepares them to thrive in school and throughout life. Investment in early learning, including quality child care, is also good for the economy because it allows parents to work, seek work, or participate in their own educational advancement, while knowing their children are safe and learning. Unfortunately, there is more need than available care. According to the Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences, all 36 counties in Oregon were child care deserts for infants and toddlers before the pandemic, with only one child care slot for every three children who need care. Families in rural areas face even more scarcity. Access to affordable, high quality child care tends to be hardest for low-income families and families of color.”

Available child care comes at a high cost to families.

“Working families in Oregon pay some of the highest child care costs in the country. Child care can cost as much as, or more than, college. According to research by Child Care Aware, infant care in a center in Oregon averages $13,518 per year compared to $10,610 for in-state college tuition at a public college. In the Portland Metro area families are paying upwards of $21,000 per year for center-based infant care.”

“Although the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that no more than 7 percent of household income go toward child care payments, the average in Oregon is 14.7 percent for preschool and 18 percent for infant and toddler care. This burden is much higher for low-income families.”

Compensation and benefits for early childhood educators are insufficient.

“The quality of a child care program depends on the quality of the staff. Increasingly, child care programs require advanced degrees and credentials to reflect the science and skills required of this workforce. Yet while education and training requirements have increased, wages have remained stagnant.”

“[Child care providers] are paid near-poverty wages, and nearly half are eligible for public assistance. In Oregon the average annual income of early childhood educators is $26,740, and nationwide they are paid on average $10.72 an hour. Additionally, child care providers and early childhood educators often lack some of the same benefits afforded to other workers, such as paid vacation time and health care. This disproportionately affects women and women of color, who make up about half of the child care workforce. Skilled, supported, and knowledgeable early childhood educators provide high-quality education, nurture the social and emotional development of children, and set children on a path to success. Low hourly wages and few or no benefits not only jeopardize the financial security of workers, but also negatively affect retention and quality.”

Problems Exacerbated by COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated all of the child care industry’s pre-existing problems. From the report:

“Prior to COVID-19, Oregon had 3,835 licensed providers with the capacity to serve approximately 128,000 children in child care. During the pandemic, Oregon Governor Kate Brown required that all child care programs close unless they were operating as emergency child care for essential workers—2,200 programs stayed open as emergency child care.”

“Although these providers have the capacity to serve about 23,000 children, only 15,000 children are currently enrolled. This means that only 12 percent of the children who attended care before COVID-19 are attending care during the pandemic. The providers that have remained open also face increased expenses to care for children safely, including the cost of purchasing personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies, and they also lose revenue because they must limit classroom sizes.”

As providers have responded to the pandemic by closing their doors, or by limiting enrollment to children of essential workers, many have struggled to pay for continuing operating expenses such as rent, insurance, and utilities with dramatically decreased or non-existent revenue. The report makes it clear that these circumstances will do devastating damage to an already delicate child care situation:

“The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) found that 27 percent of the Oregon child care providers it surveyed indicated they would not survive a closure of more than two weeks without additional funding. Alarmingly, 21 percent reported they could not survive a closure of any length without additional funding. Nationwide, we have already seen more than 330,000 child care providers and early childhood educators lose their jobs in a workforce that is predominantly women and women of color.”

“Without swift action, many providers and centers—whether they are small family childcare businesses, franchise locations, or national child care providers—will not be able to reopen their doors when physical distancing requirements are eased. The Center for American Progress estimates that as many as 44,000 slots could be permanently lost in Oregon.”

Policy Efforts to Stabilize the Industry During the Pandemic

Bonamici’s report outlines important legislative wins that have acted to bolster the child care industry and support families with young children during the pandemic. These include:

  • The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which expanded access to emergency paid sick time and paid family leave to nearly 87 million workers to help cover their own illness, illness of a family member, as well as child care and school closures
  • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which included:
    • Federal funds for the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program for continued payment and assistance to child care providers and to support child care for essential workers
    • Key supports for early childhood educators, including a suspension of payments on federally-held student loans
    • Access to small business loans of up to $10 million that can be forgiven, if programs use the loans for specific purposes such as wages, paid sick or family leave, health insurance benefits, retirement benefits, mortgages or rent, or utilities

A Proposed Path Forward

Bonamici ends her report with a commitment to pursue additional legislation that would continue to stabilize and support the child care industry, as well as families with young children, through the pandemic and beyond. Details on the specific proposed and current legislation can be found in the full report.

“If substantial support is not provided to sustain the child care sector, programs will continue to bear a steep financial burden and be forced to shutter permanently. And if child care is not available as businesses reopen, parents—mostly mothers—will find it impossible to go back to work. This will have long-term consequences for our families and economy,” says Bonamici.

 

 

 

 

 

2019 NIEER Report Lauds SSA, Sounds Warning for COVID-19 Impact

2019 NIEER Report Lauds SSA, Sounds Warning for COVID-19 Impact

What We’re Reading

The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) has released its annual State of Preschool Yearbook, lauding recent developments in Oregon and raising the alarm about impacts from COVID-19.

The report cites the 2019 passage of Oregon’s  Student Success Act, which would provide $200 million in annual funding for expansion of early care and education programs for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. According to the report, “This increased investment, paired with current programs, should reach approximately 15,000 children (including 2,565 children in Preschool Promise), or 15 percent of children living in low-income families and approximately 60 percent of families in poverty, in the coming years.”

Oregon’s Early Learning Division (ELD) was also awarded a $26.6 million Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five renewal award (PDG-B–5) by the federal Administration for Children and Families to improve and expand early learning programs. These funds will be distributed over three years and are designed to build the infrastructure and quality supports needed to impact child outcomes through improving preschool quality, specifically targeting development of programs that reach children from historically underserved populations.

However, NIEER’s report, which outlines enrollment, spending, and quality of state-funded preschool programs across the country, comes at a time when state budgets are reeling from the effects of coronavirus closures. In Oregon, plans impacting early care and education are likely to be radically upended in the context of the pandemic. While Oregon’s complete budget forecast won’t be released until May 20, state agencies have already had to make 8.5 percent cuts in their allotted general fund spending­—a budget reality representing a worst-case scenario for this current two-year budget cycle. According to a press release from NIEER, “The COVID-19 pandemic has created an economic problem likely to have negative long-term impacts on state budgets. That translates into negative impacts on state-funded pre-K.”

State-Funded Preschool Programs are Needed to Close Gaps

Oregon’s state-funded preschool programs are targeted to serve children from low-income families to help close gaps in school readiness that begin long before kindergarten entry. 

Cuts in state spending often hit preschool programs, and the effects are long-lasting. According to the report, many states have still not reinstated quality standards that were eliminated in response to the country’s previous 2008-2009 economic crisis. With the U.S. already serving far fewer three- and four-year-olds than comparable countries around the world, NIEER cautions against policy responses to the COVID-19 crisis that would further gut early learning across the country.

It is on this point that the State of Preschool Yearbook finds some hope: quality early education is a widely popular, bi-partisan issue, with the most robust programs occurring in both blue and red states.

With this type of broad support in mind, NIEER has made five policy recommendations summarized in the box on the left.

Results in Oregon

State-funded preschool programs enrolled 9,360 children in 2018-2019, a small decrease from the previous year. State funding was down three percent, and spending was down $183 per child from 2017-2018.

Oregon’s two state-funded preschool programs, Oregon Pre-kindergarten (OPK) and Preschool Promise, met an average of 7.5 of 10 quality standards benchmarks.

Source: http://nieer.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/YB2019_Full_Report.pdf

 

What’s missing from NIEER’s quality benchmarks?

According to Marina Merrill, director of research and strategy for Children’s Institute, there are some shortcomings to the benchmarks NIEER uses to assess program quality.

“A program earns points for mandating that all teachers hold a bachelor’s degree, for example,“ she says, “but does not earn points for paying teachers well, having a high percentage of teachers with bachelors degrees, or for achieving a diverse teacher workforce.”

Oregon has prioritized a comprehensive approach, including efforts to achieve parity in salaries with local kindergarten teachers and retaining, recruiting, and creating pathways for teachers of color to earn degrees and become preschool teachers. Additional limitations to the benchmarks include:

Full-day programs are not a NIEER benchmark.

Growing evidence indicates that a longer preschool day can help close opportunity and achievement gaps in young children at kindergarten entry and beyond, and increases economic stability for families. Full-day programs are shown to improve  social-emotional, language, physical, and cognitive development, and are tied to reductions in chronic absenteeism. Preschool Promise is a full-day program, and increasing the number of full-day Head Start programs has been a priority in the SSA budget.

Inclusion of three-year-olds is not a NIEER benchmark.

Research also shows that two years of preschool makes the largest impact for children who face barriers to success. Inclusion of three-year-olds is a strength of Oregon’s preschool approach.

Competitive and fair teacher compensation is not a NIEER benchmark.

Low wages for preschool teachers undermine quality for children. In Oregon, Preschool Promise and Head Start have increased educator wages.

NIEER does not measure supports for quality from a resourced system.

States like New Jersey have seen success by taking a comprehensive approach to investing in preschool, workforce, and infrastructure. States that invest in preschool slots without supportive resources to ensure success are less successful.

 

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