Oregon’s Legislature Invests in Young Children and Families

Oregon’s Legislature Invests in Young Children and Families

Oregon lawmakers concluded the 2021 legislative session shortly after 5:30 p.m. on June 26, 2021 — a day ahead of the constitutionally mandated deadline. In the final days of a challenging and unusual five-month virtual legislative process, Oregon’s Early Childhood Coalition (ECC) pressed on, as advocates and ECC partners continued to urge legislators to center racial equity, and pass early childhood policies to eliminate disparities for young children and their families. 

With votes of 21-8 in the Senate and 42-14 in the house, the legislature passed an Oregon Department of Education (ODE) Grant in Aid budget that increases funding for many of the priorities listed on the ECC’s 2021 legislative agenda, including Preschool Promise, Oregon PreKindergarten 0-3, the Early Childhood Equity Fund, a Tribal Early Learning Hub, and expanding access to parenting education.

We are celebrating several policy wins after this session laid the foundation to advance racial equity in early childhood, expand early childhood investments, strengthen the child care system, and invest in families and communities. While we are heading in the right direction, there is more we must do to reach our goal where Oregon is the best place to be pregnant, raise children, and be a kid.


Oregon’s Commitment to Kids and Families

The following list includes the bills that passed this legislative session, that were supported by the Early Childhood Coalition:

HB 2166 — Directs the Early Learning Division to develop a program to prevent suspension and expulsion in early childhood programs.

SB 236 — Led by Black Child Development PDX, this bill will ban suspension and expulsion in early care and education programs by 2026. 

HB 2055 — Will create a Tribal Early Learning Hub across Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes.

SB 5513 — ODE Grant in Aid budget that will invest in some early childhood programs

HB 3073 —  Makes needed improvements to Oregon’s largest child care subsidy program  and establishes a new state agency focused on Early Childhood. 

SB 5529 — Funds Family to Family networks, which provide tools for parents to become healthier family units, stronger advocates for their children, and active in their communities.

SB 5505 — Funds the development of affordable housing for families.

HB 2835 — Provides benefits navigators at colleges and universities, where students who are also parents experience disproportionate rates of food insecurity.

HB 5006 — “Christmas Tree” bill includes funding for some early childhood investments including $4 million to ECC partner, Latino Network.


Reduce/eliminate suspension and expulsion in early care and education programs

Preschool has the highest suspension and expulsion rates of any age, and Black children, Native children, and children with disabilities are disproportionately impacted. In response, the Governor’s office put forward legislation that directs the Early Learning Division to develop a system for early care and education programs that are: culturally-responsive, developmentally appropriate, and prevent expulsion or suspension. The bill passed the House floor with a vote of 37-18 and the Senate floor with a vote of 19-8. 

Another bill, SB 236, led by Black Child Development PDX, sought to ban suspension and expulsion in early childhood programs entirely by 2026. The policy will also support Oregon’s early childhood educators through robust coaching and professional development, before the ban goes into effect. The House passed this legislation with a vote of 36-22, and the Senate passed with a vote of 16-13. Together, these bills will work to create a more equitable and racially just early childhood system. 


Create a Tribal Early Learning Hub

A policy to establish a Tribal Early Learning Hub passed the Senate floor and will ensure that tribal communities across Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes are included in deciding how to grow access to high-quality, culturally-specific early learning opportunities. This will be funded with $850,000 in the ODE Grant in Aid budget. 


Reform Oregon’s Child Care Subsidy System

House Bill 3073 will shift Oregon’s child care subsidy program, Employment Related Day Care (ERDC), into a child care assistance program that better serves low-income families, their children, and creates more financial stability for child care business owners and educators 一 especially Black, Native, women of color and other women 一 who perform this essential work.

It will also establish a new state agency focused on early childhood care, The Department of Early Learning and Care, to streamline Oregon’s child care system. It will allow the state to be more strategic in its use of funds to rebuild the early child care and education sector from the devastating effects of the pandemic; make programs work better for children, families, and providers; and create a critical opportunity to advance equity. Chief sponsors of this policy included Rep. Karin Power and Rep. Jack Zika, who attended the ECC’s Advocacy Days kickoff event in early May, along with Senators Taylor, Jama, and Knopp; and Representatives Alonso Leon, Hayden, Levy, Neron, and G. Smith. 


American Rescue Plan Act Boosts Early Childhood Projects

Using federal recovery dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), individual legislators received funds to dedicate to projects of their choosing across the state. Senators received $4 million and representatives received $2 million, respectively. A number of these investments went to early childhood or ECC partner efforts, through the end of session “Christmas Tree” bill, HB 5006.


Our Work isn’t Over

Although we are celebrating forward momentum on many of our priorities, our work is not done. We must make an ongoing commitment to invest in early childhood and support continued progress for wage parity, relief nurseries, providers operating out of rentals, and other policies that were only partially funded, or did not pass.  

“In this session, we built more power and secured a greater investment to improve early care, education, and supports for Oregon’s young children, families, and communities across the state,” said Dana Hepper, director of policy and advocacy at Children’s Institute. “But there is still more work to do, to create an early childhood system that works for all of Oregon’s children and families, and develop a legislative process that centers the voices of those most impacted by legislative actions in the decision-making process.”

A Glimpse of How Yoncalla’s Youngest Learners Spend Their Day

A Glimpse of How Yoncalla’s Youngest Learners Spend Their Day

We visited the Early Learning Center at Yoncalla Elementary on a warm, May morning to see how some of Yoncalla’s youngest learners spend their day. 

Located about 2.5 hours south of Portland, Yoncalla is a close-knit, rural community in Douglas County that sprawls away from the freeway for miles into the countryside. Yoncalla Elementary hosts grades PreK-6 and is one of two sites in Oregon that is part of the Early Works initiative—a partnership between the Ford Family Foundation, Yoncalla School District, and Children’s Institute.

In the entryway of the preschool, a large chalkboard displaying “Welcome to our Preschool Family!” in bold chalk letters, serves as a warm greeting.

Megan Barber reads the Eric Carle classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar to her preschool class. Just like thousands of children over multiple generations touched by Carle’s words and distinctive illustration, they were rapt!

The Yoncalla Early Learning Center’s outdoor space encourages students (and staff!) to be playful and creative. 

Oregon KIDS COUNT Data: The Future for Oregon’s Children is Tied to Today’s Investments

Oregon KIDS COUNT Data: The Future for Oregon’s Children is Tied to Today’s Investments

In May, Our Children Oregon released the 28th annual Oregon KIDS COUNT data cards with state and county-level data on child well-being across four core areas: Economic well-being, education, health, and family and community. 

From Our Children Oregon’s press release:

These data showcase the impact of investments that were made in the response to the Great Recession. It took many years to feel the impact of these investments on outcomes for children. This points to the importance of using data to inform the decision-making taking place now as these choices will be felt in the years and generations to come.

Oregonians have the opportunity to make a commitment to invest in young children, families, and communities, which is a top priority on the Early Childhood Coalition’s (ECC) 2021 legislative agenda. The ECC is urging state lawmakers to commit to continued improvement in early care, education, and supports for all of Oregon’s young children and families, and to center the voices of those most impacted by legislative actions in their decision-making processes.

As a policy advocacy organization, Children’s Institute relies on Oregon KIDS COUNT to access high-quality data about child well-being. As racial equity and economic justice are core values of CI, we also believe that through this information we can better understand community conditions and opportunities to advance equity. When racial equity is at the center of decision-making, early childhood programs and services can mitigate disparities by race/ethnicity, income, geography, disability, language, immigrant and refugee status, houselessness, and foster care.

KIDS COUNT allows us to take a first look at statewide data trends of where children are on key indicators of child health and well-being. Children’s Institute has identified some of these indicators as:

  • Children in poverty
  • Preschool aged children (who has access to early learning, who is not in school)
  • Fourth grade reading proficiency
  • Low birth weight
  • Children without health insurance

Marina Merrill, director of research and strategy at Children’s Institute, explains that the high-level snapshots from KIDS COUNT can serve as a good jumping off point for further exploration of county and community levels; and can allow us to dive deeper, disaggregate data, ask questions about who the system seems to be working for, and identify opportunities for improvement.

“These data are just the starting point to formulating deeper questions about the why,” she says. “When paired with the community context and qualitative data, we can make richer meaning of the data to shape policy, informed by and with our community partners.”

Read more about the Early Childhood Coalition’s 2021 Policy Priorities

Early Child Advocates, Lawmakers, Gather Virtually for Advocacy Days

Early Child Advocates, Lawmakers, Gather Virtually for Advocacy Days

Last week, Early Childhood Coalition (ECC) partners and advocates from across Oregon gathered virtually for Early Childhood Advocacy days.

To prepare for three days of meetings with legislators, the ECC hosted a kick-off event on May 4th, which included nearly 50 participants. Three guest legislators also joined us — Representative Karin Power, Representative Jack Zika, and Representative Tawna Sanchez.

Representative Sanchez from North and Northeast Portland explained to advocates why it’s important to share their stories with legislators: “What matters to the future generations is right here and right now,”  she said. “What it takes is all of us with a voice to stand up and say something, to try to make change and shift around here. Our future generations are depending on us to make something happen.”

By the end of the kick-off, participants knew how to write an advocacy letter, learned tips for talking to legislators, and practiced giving testimony.

Over the next few days, nearly 50 attendees including child care providers, educators and parents from across the state met with more than 20 lawmakers. 

During meetings, advocates shared their own experiences and urged legislators to commit to continued improvement in early care, education, and supports for all of Oregon’s young children and families, and to center the voices of those most impacted by legislative actions in their decision-making.

Staff from Healthy Families Oregon, a voluntary home visiting program that serves families expecting or parenting newborns, described their first-hand experiences working closely with families, and expressed a critical need for home visiting services. They also addressed the ways that low-wages create a barrier to hiring and retaining qualified home visitors. One of the ECC’s 2021 legislative priorities is to expand early childhood investments, which includes expanding funding for Healthy Families Oregon home visiting and providing wage parity for relief nurseries, to reduce turnover and stress among early childhood providers.

Not to mention, disparities in early childhood have only been intensified by the ongoing pandemic which advocates say will have lasting effects. Advocates reminded lawmakers that children born during the COVID-19 pandemic will be entering kindergarten as the state is climbing out of a recession and the decisions made during this session will influence the trajectory of their lives and Oregon’s future.

“We have seen first-hand the impacts of the pandemic on families,” said Robin Nelson with Multnomah County’s Nurse-Family Partnership. “We know that the setbacks are huge and will continue for years.” 

Overall, the response from legislators was hopeful. Representative Jason Kropf acknowledged the challenges that many organizations face when they are asked to fill service gaps with limited funding and resources, and voiced his support for front-end investments that will help children, families and providers. As to the prospects for the state budget and investments in early childhood, Senator Dembrow of Portland expressed optimism. “There is a lot of support in the legislature right now for child care programs and early learning,” he said. 

We want to thank our ECC partners and advocates who shared their stories with lawmakers, and were early childhood champions during Advocacy Days.


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