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.

 

 

 

 

 

A Growing Presence on Opinion Pages: Early Childhood

A Growing Presence on Opinion Pages: Early Childhood

If you’re struggling to keep up with the sheer number of recently published opinion pieces relevant to early childhood, you’re not alone. The coronavirus pandemic is bringing more attention to a number of longstanding issues that affect children’s healthy development, including our growing child care crisis and ever-widening opportunity gaps in education.  

Here’s a selection of some of the best we’ve seen lately. Catch up when you have a moment.  

 

opinion round up image

A selection of opinion headlines from across the country

Today’s Children are the Pandemic Generation. For Millions, the Future is Now Grim

Writing in the Washington Post, Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician, and Karen B. Redlener, co-founder of the Children’s Health Fund, outline a bleak future for the world’s most vulnerable children in the wake of the pandemic.

“There is no doubt that persistent lockdowns and school closings have affected children everywhere. UNICEF reports that more than 91 percentof the world’s children are impacted by school shutdowns, and at least 117 million children are at risk of missing vital health care, including critical vaccines. Extensive surveys conducted bySave the Children also found that nearly half of all children said they were ‘worried’ and a third reported feeling ‘scared.’

These challenges only add to the serious adversities many children already face—from poverty and homelessness to food insecurity and suboptimal schools. A new report from Columbia University’s Center on Poverty & Social Policy projects that if unemployment reaches 30 percent, child poverty could rise from 13.6 percent as of February 2020 to nearly 21 percent by the end of the year.”

 

I’m Sick of Asking Children to be Resilient

In a fierce call to action pediatrician, author, and advocate, Mona Hanna-Attisha in the New York Times argues that if we truly care about children, we need evidence-based investments and policies that support their healthy development and wellbeing. 

“This is how we begin to transform the concept of resilience from an individual trait to one that describes a community—and society—that cares for everyone. Rather than hoping a child is tough enough to endure the insurmountable, we must build resilient places—healthier, safer, more nurturing and just—where all children can thrive. This is where prevention and healing begin.”

Want to Reopen the Economy? Bail Out Child Care Providers

The Los Angeles Times endorses public investment in child care as a necessary step towards economic recovery. While none of the arguments will be new or surprising for early childhood advocates, this board editorial presents them to a general audience in an accessible and pragmatic way.

“Child care is too often an afterthought for the nation’s political leaders. It’s treated as an optional expense. A lifestyle choice. A woman’s problem. But you can’t have a strong, prosperous economy if a significant portion of the population can’t work. And parents of children too young to be left home alone can’t get back to work as long as schools, summer camps and day-care centers are closed.”

Repairing the Broken Child Care Market

Closer to home, the Bend Bulletin’s editorial board makes a similar argument while also praising local efforts to help.

“Before the pandemic, registered child care centers and in-home providers had enough openings only for one in three children under the age of 5. Then the pandemic drove many child care facilities to shutdown. Others couldn’t keep as many children.

What has been impressive is the way people in Central Oregon responded even before the pandemic hit. There are many groups to credit, including Central Oregon chambers, Governor Brown’s Regional Solutions team, Better Together, The Early Learning Hub, NeighborImpact, Central Oregon Health Council, TRACES, OSU-Cascades, COCC and more. They created a Central Oregon child care accelerator position to coordinate the efforts to improve child care in the region. The effort now has a new website, centraloregonchildcare.com.”

Working Parents Could Face Lack of Child Care as the Economy Restarts

In political news outlet, The Hill, Cindy Cisneros, former special assistant for elementary education at the Department of Education, lays out a number of specific actions that the federal government should take to support child care in the next stimulus package. She maintains that the economy cannot fully recover from the pandemic without serious and substantial support for working parents. 

“Congress can provide states temporary funding to programs to stabilize and continue operations during the next year while the economy moves to more parents going back to work. Congress can provide grants to child care programs that are now closed so they can reopen and meet community needs. Public private partnerships can be encouraged to help programs reduce costs and operate in a more efficient manner.”

Looking for a more irreverent take on the same topic? Also in the New York Times, Lauren Birchfield Kennedy and Katie Mayshak illustrate a stark, post-COVID reality for working parents in a country without increased public funding to support child care in, Say Hello to That New Spin Studio and Goodbye to Your Child Care

Turning a Blind Eye Toward Pre-K is a Mistake

Writing in the Richmond Times Dispatch, Chris Gentilviso argues that concerns about COVID-19-related opportunity gaps in education need to include consideration of our youngest learners. 

“As we think about education in a post-pandemic world, turning a blind eye toward pre-K is a mistake…Early childhood education should be a top-of-mind concern, and there is no distance learning bandage for our kids’ critical development before age 5.” 

A Preschool Watering Hole… Evaporated

For an early educator’s perspective, please read Teresa Ashford’s thoughtful piece on her struggle to honor best practice in the classroom alongside new health and safety standards brought on by COVID-19. 

“Children are hands-on, sensory learners. They learn by exploring, moving, and physically engaging with their environments. I understand that developmentally appropriate practice must be sacrificed in the midst of staying alive during the coronavirus pandemic. Our lives are more important… But what will be the long-term outcomes on children’s development?”

Early Childhood Investments are Even More Critical Now

Last but not least, here’s our own Swati Adarkar’s response to the latest state revenue forecast and why she believes that now, more than ever, is the time to hold fast to public investments in early childhood.

“Now is the time to hold firm on Oregon’s commitment to young children and their families and to protect and expand our early childhood investments. This will take moral courage and clarity about how to best address long-standing inequities in Oregon while considering the state’s future economic health.

We are inspired by Oregonians coming together to create solutions, and we know that centering our most vulnerable children and families when decisions are made will give us a stronger and healthier state. We stand ready to work with our elected officials, partners, and families to ensure a brighter, healthier future for us all.”

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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EdWeek: Oregon Earns a B on Early Years, C+ for Overall Education Quality

EdWeek: Oregon Earns a B on Early Years, C+ for Overall Education Quality

Education Week’s latest report on education quality gives Oregon a C+ and a ranking of 32nd in the country. When broken down into three stages of a student’s life, (early foundations, school years, and adult outcomes) the analysis finds that Oregon does slightly better on indicators of school readiness.

The Quality Counts 2020 report card uses federal data to compare states across 13 indicators it refers to collectively as a “Chance-for-Success Index.” Taken together, they are meant to offer a more holistic view of educational opportunity. In addition to metrics like elementary reading scores and high school graduation rates, the analysis is informed by a number of non-academic early indicators that predict school readiness. These include the percentage of children in families earning at least 200 percent of the federal poverty level, parents’ educational attainment level, and the percentage of parents who are fluent English speakers.

Most states, including Oregon, fared best on the early foundations category, but struggled in later years. Education Week also notes the lack of improvement overall among states. Oregon’s worst performing early indicator was preschool access—with just 46 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool, slightly below the national average.

 

What’s the difference between Oregon and top performing states?

  • In Massachusetts, the top-ranking state on the report card, 60 percent of 3- and 4- year-olds are enrolled in preschool, 14 percentage points higher than Oregon. And 64 percent of children in that state have at least one parent with a post-secondary degree vs. 52.5 percent in Oregon.
  • All states with an overall score of B+ or higher on the index reported top-tier parent incomes. Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, Minnesota, and New Hampshire all reported that more than 70 percent of dependent children lived in households earning at least 200 percent of the federal poverty level vs. 63.1 percent in Oregon.

Education Week’s full report is here. It also plans to issue a second installment in June on school finance and a K–12 achievement index in September.

 

Why Are Kindergarten Teachers Quitting?

Why Are Kindergarten Teachers Quitting?

“I have been a teacher’s aide for 15 years… We are asking these 5- and 6-year-olds to do things that they are not emotionally able to do, and we are now seeing many young children with anxiety.”

Psychology Today recently published a collection of comments from kindergarten teachers describing their frustrations with developmentally inappropriate teaching practices. The comments, compiled by educational researcher Peter Gray, were originally posted in response to an article describing protests among kindergarten teachers in Brookline, Massachusetts against school district policies and curriculum emphasizing drills and tests at the expense of creativity and play. 

“Kindergarten should be a transition—with plenty of play and student-centered learning—from nursery to first-grade academic curriculum, but instead children are forgoing that transition. They are being thrown into a structured environment that is requiring them to be mini robots. They have to sit for extended periods of time (even adults find that hard), they have to use ‘brain’ power without the aid of free movement to stave off boredom. They are not required to use their imaginations or ask questions that stimulate interaction with teachers and peers. … Kindergarten classrooms shouldn’t have desks and chairs; they should have centers, reading nooks, educational and fun games, and space to explore.” 

“I’ve seen a rise in anxiety in my kids, avoidance of tasks that are ‘too hard,’ and some pretty impressive breakdowns or meltdowns. I’ve also seen a drop in executive function, imagination, and ability to sit and focus…. I have to give them about 13 different required formal tests throughout the year. Thirteen! I’m seeing assessment fatigue. Who knew five- and six-year-olds could burn out? They certainly can, and I worry about how they’ll continue through school for the 12 years after I have them.”

Through our Early School Success initiative, launched in the Beaverton and Forest Grove School Districts, we’re working with teachers and families to ensure young children are taught in developmentally appropriate ways and supported as they transition from preschool into the elementary school.

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