Schools Push for Equity Against Forces of Pandemic

Schools Push for Equity Against Forces of Pandemic

After the pandemic closed Oregon schools this spring, teacher Nicole Odom and her assistants at McKay Elementary in Beaverton depended on parental help to remotely teach their preschoolers.

They prepared video lessons, learning activities, songs and Zoom sessions, all of which required help from parents. Some parents, however, worked outside the home, and only half of the 36 students in Odom’s two half-day classes showed up for Zoom video sessions.

“There were kids we would see or not see on Zoom,” she says. Her team looked for other ways to reach students who didn’t show. But whatever they did required parental help.

“Many parents were dealing with jobs, both remotely or in person, as well as many other significant challenges,” she says.

One of the powers of preschool is to reduce inequalities and prevent an achievement gap between less advantaged children and those with more support. The pandemic, however, is forcing preschoolers to get some or all of their learning at home, where learning opportunities are unequal, says Steven Barnett, co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) in New Jersey.

“The pandemic has thrown us backwards,” he told reporters in a July webinar organized by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.

Among the scores of challenges facing schools as they open in a pandemic this fall is how to ensure all children get an equal shot at quality education, no matter their zip code, race or household wealth. State guidelines require schools to make their back-to-school plans through an “equity lens” with heightened attention to disadvantaged students.

COVID-19 already has put children of color and low-income homes at a disadvantage by disproportionately infecting their parents, who are more likely to work in risky jobs such as driving buses, processing food or caring for the elderly, says Colt Gill, director of the Oregon Department of Education.

“That’s another trauma that some children are going through that others are not,” he says.

Social interaction vital

Eighty-five percent of the parents in the small Yoncalla School District 45 miles south of Eugene want to send their children back to school this fall. District leaders want that too, says Superintendent Brian Berry, but if virus cases continue to climb in Douglas County, it may have to open with distance learning. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has declared schools must not allow students into classrooms until the statewide positive COVID-19 testing rate is at or below 5 percent for three weeks in a row.

Megan Barber, Yoncalla Elementary’s preschool teacher, is making plans to teach her students in person, possibly in smaller groups. She may wear a mask, keep students distanced, clean thoroughly and take other precautions.

If she must teach them remotely, she’ll face bigger challenges. Low-income parents, a majority in Yoncalla and many Oregon districts, often are single and working outside their homes. They cannot always help teachers provide young children lessons, activities and vital social interaction. Some lack adequate computers and internet connections.

More affluent parents, on the other hand, are more often able to work at home and help teach their children. Some groups of parents this summer already have teamed up to hire tutors who will teach their children in what they’re calling pandemic pods.

A nationwide survey by NIEER shows these home inequities played out among preschoolers last spring. Efforts to serve preschool children were “a disaster,” says Barnett. “No one was prepared.”

The survey of a representative sample of 1,000 parents showed that while most of their 3-to-5 year old children received some remote educational support when schools closed, less than half continued to do so within two months. Of those who did continue, most participated less than once a week in preschool activities.

What’s more, most young children with disabilities experienced loss of services required by their Individual Education Plans, Barnett says.

Darcy Jeffs and Kevin Wolpoff’s son, Miles. Special education students like Miles, who is autistic, are facing additional barriers to learning due to the pandemic. 

Darcy Jeffs and Kevin Wolpoff live in Florence on Oregon’s coast, where Darcy can be at home for their son, Miles. But Miles, 6, is autistic and needs services harder to get in a pandemic.

Before COVID-19 arrived, the parents sent Miles to The Child Center, a non-profit in Eugene, for highly specialized therapy six hours a day, five days a week. The pandemic reduced that comprehensive schedule to six hours of distance teletherapy per week. Jeffs received training to help fill the gaps with home strategies.  Still, she says, “Without in-person access to his prescribed schedule, we were experiencing setbacks.”

Now the couple, like most parents, is weighing what to do this fall. They hoped to send Miles to kindergarten with a Child Center therapist, but the public school districts in their area will not allow that. Besides, most plan only distance learning. Miles will return to The Child Center late August, and one private school that plans to physically open might have room for him and his therapist. But these options risk exposing him to the virus.

“There are no easy decisions,” says Jeffs. “We face a health risk on either side. Do we risk exposure or losing access to a very necessary therapy for our son?”

After schools shut down in Drain, a small town near Yoncalla, Jessilyn and Nathan Whiteman received no special education services for their son, Christopher, who has autism spectrum disorder. A private speech therapist in Eugene provided Christopher some service on Zoom. The Whitemans hope Christopher can attend kindergarten in person this fall.

“Christopher is already behind,” says Whiteman, “and we are doing what we can at home. But he needs help from a special education teacher. When his academics are behind it also affects him socially and emotionally.”

Losing ground

Ericka Guynes, principal at Earl Boyles Elementary in Southeast Portland, is concerned her youngest students already have lost ground after the spring closure.

“It is possible they may have lost a year of learning,” Guynes says.

Earl Boyles offers half-day public preschool classes that enroll a total 102 children and, along with Yoncalla Elementary, is a partner in the Children’s Institute’s Early Works program.

Another inequity is inherent in Oregon’s patchwork of early education programs, which have never been open to all children. The state’s public preschool programs and the federal Head Start programs serve less than two thirds of the low-income children who qualify. And private programs have become increasingly out of reach for low- and middle-income families. The state provides child care subsidies for only 15 percent of the low-income families that qualify. Parents pay for 72 percent of all funding for early care and education and thousands of them have lost their jobs because of the pandemic.

COVID-19 has “exposed a fundamental and underlying challenge of the financial mechanism for supporting early childhood education,” says David Mandell, policy and research director for the Oregon Early Learning Division.

So even if Oregon’s preschools are able to open this fall, they will open only for a fraction of the state’s 3- and 4-year-olds. And if those students are taught remotely, the quality of their education will be lower, says Barnett, with learning losses “much deeper in things like language, math and social/emotional development.”  This deficit could have negative effects on children through life, he says.

Early education has a “profound impact on children’s development and their acquisition of social-emotional, language and cognitive skills, all of which are critical to their school and life success,” says an Early Learning Division report to the Oregon Legislature last December.

Reducing inequities

Oregon state guidelines emphasize schools must keep all students from falling behind whether they are disabled, learning English, homeless, in foster care, living in poverty or with parents who must leave home to work.

“It is not enough to make statements about equity without following those statements with concrete actions,” the guidelines say. The state recommends schools train staff on culturally responsive, anti-bias teaching; hire more diverse teachers; provide more individualized and project-based instruction; and help diverse students connect across cultures. Schools are urged to explicitly address systemic racial injustice exposed by the nation’s massive Black Lives Matter movement.

“Create learning opportunities that address white privilege and the dismantling of white supremacy,” the state says.

Education leaders say they will work to get more resources and support to the children who need it most. The state, for example, needs to steer emergency federal money for child care support to low-income communities where it always has been scarce, says Mandell. Oregon’s 275,000 children under six comprise its most diverse population sector, with one in four speaking a language other than English at home.

The Legislature created the Early Childhood Equity Fund last year to provide about $10 million a year in grants for parenting education, early literacy, native language preservation and other programs aimed at closing opportunity gaps for historically underserved families.

Many districts, including Beaverton, acted last spring to close digital divides by providing computers and WiFi hot spots to families without Internet connections. Salem School District teachers connected with 95 percent of their students through distance learning, says Gill.

ode pandemic equity guidance

ODE’s companion guidance on equity works with districts, in part, to align federal and state requirements for the education of students furthest from opportunity. (Click image to view)

The federal government has given Oregon schools $115 million in pandemic relief money through the Cares Act, and they can use that money for distance learning technology. The state also received another $28 million to improve remote connections with computers, broadband and adult training.

Schools also can use their Cares Act money to sanitize facilities, organize long-term closures, and reduce inequities for children who are disabled, in low-income or minority households, English learners, homeless or in foster care.

Some districts are exploring ways to bring their youngest children in grades two and below into school a few times a week for socializing and “short bursts of instruction around numeracy and literacy,” says Gill. 

Educators also may need to provide at least some services to children with disabilities in person. Schools will need to determine what can be provided online and what must be provided one-on-one, says Guynes, principal of Earl Boyles. 

In its latest version of guidelines, released last week, the state told districts that they should prioritize in-person instruction for special education students, English language learners and other groups, even if county-wide cases are not low enough to allow a return for all students to the classroom.

Beaverton School District wants to address disparities resulting from race, poverty, language and other barriers, says Superintendent Don Grotting.

“We’re trying to look through our equity lens and make sure we come through with plans to address disparities.” Under COVID-19, he adds, those disparities are “growing wider and wider.”

Child Care Reopen Survey Reflects Concern for Health, Financial Instability

Child Care Reopen Survey Reflects Concern for Health, Financial Instability

Oregon’s child care providers are feeling strong financial pressure to reopen, but are unsure of their ability to effectively implement health, safety, and other requirements outlined by the state.

That’s according to more than 1,600 providers who responded to a survey conducted in April by Oregon’s Early Learning Division. The ELD says that the responses helped to update standards for child care in mid-May, and promises more detailed analysis and additional surveys to come.

More than half of providers responding to the survey were open, mostly as emergency care providers (62 percent).

Respondents represented a wide range of setting types, demographic and geographic backgrounds.

In addition to English, 128 respondents took the survey in Spanish and 16 took the survey in Russian. There were no respondents in the other languages offered (Vietnamese, Simplified and Traditional Chinese).

eld survey child care 5.20

Provider representation by zip code. Source: ELD

Social Distancing Requirement Considered Impossible

Licensed and regulated child care in Oregon can take many forms, from smaller, home-based settings to large, center-type facilities. Regardless of setting type, providers overwhelmingly cited the ability to maintain six feet of social distance as one of the most difficult requirements to implement.

A number of providers felt that doing so with infants and young children was a practical impossibility. Maintaining stable groups of 10 or fewer is also very difficult for all but those registered as family providers, who usually care for just a small number of children.


Source: ELD

Reopening Barriers

Health and safety concerns are the biggest barrier to reopening for respondents who are not currently operating, presumably due to COVID-19 related issues (49 percent). Providers expressed concern about their ability to keep themselves, their staff, and the children under their care healthy without a significant reduction in cases or a widely-available vaccine. Some did not feel it would be safe to reopen until the coronavirus is eliminated and others said that reopening was not an option due to their own or family members’ health status.

Source: ELD

Financial Support Needed

The cost of operating with lower or limited enrollment was the second most-cited barrier, especially for providers who usually serve larger numbers of children. All types of providers felt that financial stabilization or tuition replacement assistance will be necessary to reopen. Many providers who are currently operating said that they are doing so at a financial loss or barely covering costs. Offering hazard (recognition) pay for staff and additional training for staff was also named as a top priority.  

The full report is here and includes more detailed information about providers’ responses and comments on the survey’s open-ended questions.

supports to reopen child care

Source: ELD

Child Care Crisis Not Limited to Oregon

Oregon’s survey results echo those from similar surveys conducted in other states like CaliforniaNew Jersey, and Nebraska.

In addition to state-level efforts to support child care, there is increasing awareness that federal investment is necessary to keep the child care industry afloat.

Oregon Representative Suzanne Bonamici, Senator Jeff Merkley, and Senator Ron Wyden have called for $50 billion in emergency funding for child care in the next coronavirus stimulus package. 


Early Childhood Investments Are Even More Critical Now

Early Childhood Investments Are Even More Critical Now

Oregon is facing the most severe health and economic crisis in our lifetime and the state’s revenue forecast released yesterday paints a grim picture. State budgets are facing a $2.7 billion hit to the current revenue cycle and another $7.8 billion loss through 2025.

We are deeply concerned for those hardest hit by the impacts of COVID-19: young children and families experiencing poverty, low-wage workers, women, children and communities of color, immigrants, and those managing disabilities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated an existing crisis for vulnerable young children across the state at a time when wide opportunity gaps were already impacting access to quality early care and education and basic health services. The number of children living in low-income households is increasing. Early learning programs like child care and preschool have closed, and many may not reopen. Children are missing critical well-child checkups and immunizations creating further disparities and public health dangers.

Existing and entrenched racial and economic disparities in our health systems are compounding the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color. This includes increased food insecurity and housing instability during the most critical time for young children to develop a strong foundation.

Oregon cannot afford to go backwards. It is essential that we reach more children with the committed early learning funds from the Student Success Act.

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. 

Our elected leaders face serious challenges as they work to create an economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic that brings needed relief to individuals and communities across the state. We urge them to focus on reducing disparities and increasing opportunities for children before they arrive at kindergarten. We know that children who start school behind stay behind.

Early childhood investments are a smart choice. They can begin to break down structural inequalities in our communities and our society. They effectively strengthen a child’s ability to grow and learn during the most rapid period of brain development, from birth to age 5. And they yield a significant return on investment, benefiting children and society in the short and long term.

A recent review by RAND Corporation scientists of early childhood program evaluations showed that 90% of programs had a positive effect. Among programs with an economic evaluation, the typical return is $2 to $4 for every dollar invested.

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.



View the Complete Revenue Forecast

View the Revenue Forecast Summary

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Early Childhood Investments Are Even More Critical Now

ELD Updates Guidance, Announces $8M in Grants for Emergency Child Care Providers

Oregon’s Early Learning Division issued updated guidance for emergency child care providers and announced that $8 million in new grant funding will soon be available to all current emergency care providers thanks to funding allocated to Oregon through the federal CARES act.

Changes and Updates to Rules for Emergency Care Providers

Changes and updates to the emergency care rules and guidelines include:

  • School-based emergency care will end on June 30, 2020 unless the school provided child care prior to the emergency.
  • The Office of Child Care will no longer accept “pop-up” applications, unless there is additional child care capacity needed in the area.
  • Emergency child care providers are still required to serve children in stable groups of 10. The new guidance clarifies that teachers and staff must also remain a stable part of each group.
  • Care providers are now able to serve more than one stable group of 10 children, provided the groups are kept in separate, exclusive rooms. Common areas like bathrooms, eating areas and outdoor areas may be shared in separate shifts. If a care provider is interested in serving more than one group of 10 children, they will need to contact their licensing specialist for approval.
  • Existing health and safety procedures developed in partnership with the Oregon Health Authority are still in effect and emergency providers are reminded that they cannot refuse enrollment to a child of an essential worker based simply on the belief that they may be more likely to contract the virus.

The full guide for temporary emergency child care providers is available here.


Emergency Care Providers Now Eligible for Non-Competitive Grants

spanish ecc grant from eld

This non-competitive grant will distribute $8 million in funds allocated to Oregon through the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act. Providers must submit their applications by May 11. More information and online application is available here.


Survey Deadline Extended to May 1

All child care providers—emergency or not—are encouraged to provide feedback on a survey designed to inform the state’s plans for reopening businesses. The survey is available in multiple languages through the links below:


Español (Spanish)

русский (Russian)

简体中文 (Simplified Chinese)

繁體中文 (Traditional Chinese)

Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)


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Will you help us advocate for children, families, and the early care and education community?  

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A Letter From Swati Adarkar

A Letter From Swati Adarkar

“The future depends on what we do today.”

- Mahatma Gandhi

Dear CI Friends,

What we are experiencing with COVID-19 is unlike anything any of us have known in our lifetime. The ways in which our individual and societal health and well-being are interconnected is finally becoming more broadly understood. It’s unfortunate that it takes a crisis for us to gain this clarity. Right now, we are witnessing the adverse consequences of decades of disinvestment in our public health and government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels. Low-income communities have been experiencing the brunt of this disinvestment disproportionately for years and now the broader public is slowly waking up.

We must be clear eyed about the consequences of our past short-sighted decisions and shift how we act collectively, now and down the road, knowing that building and preparing takes decades and consistency. Children’s Institute has always focused on prevention, and we believe it’s important to respond to the crisis swiftly while not creating more downstream problems by neglecting current urgent health and community needs.

We are doing all we can to support our partners and stay connected during this crisis. We are providing access to current information regarding protocols and guidance for early care and education providers and ensuring child care gets elevated as an urgent investment priority. We are staying connected to school leaders to help them support early learning and family engagement. We are also working with our partners in the Early Childhood Coalition to stay connected to national conversations and communicate in one clear voice to state and federal officials about what families and providers need. As information and supports start flowing from Salem and Washington D.C., we will continue to monitor, distribute, and translate relevant information while finding ways to center families and reach communities with diverse linguistic needs.

We know that the challenges for parents, families, and communities are mounting and changing day by day. The economic reality for many currently is stark, and the rapidly increasing loss of life is heartbreaking. Parents are juggling work and family with kids home from child care and school. But we are seeing many bright spots and cause for hope. People are pulling together in new, collaborative, and creative ways. More online learning options are available for teachers and families. Telehealth options are increasingly becoming available so that young children and families can remain connected with their pediatricians and primary care providers.

Even though our team is all working remotely we are more unified than ever in our shared commitment to support Oregon’s young children and families. And we are eager to work with all of you to pay close attention to immediate needs and not take our eye off our future—our children.

We also have the deepest appreciation and gratitude for the front line workers who are daily risking their lives to keep us safe and healthy.

Sending you and yours wishes of good health as we all look on the horizon for better times ahead.

With appreciation,


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Advocates Push for Child Care Relief

Advocates Push for Child Care Relief

Today, CI sent a letter to Governor Kate Brown, Oregon’s Joint Committee on Coronavirus Response, and Oregon’s Congressional Delegation to advocate for swift, bold relief efforts for Oregon’s child care providers.   

Date: March 27, 2020

To: Governor Kate Brown; Oregon’s Joint Special Committee on Coronavirus Response; Oregon’s Congressional Delegation

CC: Oregon State Legislators; Miriam Calderon,Early Learning Systems Director; Fariborz Pakseresht, Department of Human Services Director; Dan Haun, Self-Sufficiency Programs Director; Alyssa Chatterjee, Deputy Education Policy Advisor to the Governor

Re: Child Care Relief Efforts

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated Oregon’s child care crisis and highlighted the acute needs of families, the workforce, and providers. As the coronavirus threatens our health, safety, and economic stability, it is also threatening the vulnerable child care industry. Child care providers are at risk of permanent closure, undermining the ability of our workforce to return to work and for businesses to rebound once the threat from COVID-19 subsides. The economic impact will most adversely affect Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) women, who more commonly work as child care providers and who are already most economically vulnerable.

Child care providers are especially vulnerable because, unlike public education, 70 percent of child care revenues are funded privately by families.[1] Therefore, recent actions to continue payments for Employment Related Day Care and Head Start/Oregon Pre-kindergarten will not prevent a majority of child care programs from closing. Child care providers serving families of all income levels typically operate on very tight budgets with a constant degree of uncertainty. Without immediate public investment, most providers will not survive the COVID-19 crisis.

Findings from a national survey[2] of child care providers conducted last week show:

  • Nearly 50 percent of providers report that the loss of two weeks or less of tuition will cause them to close their doors permanently.
  • Another 16 percent said they could not sustain closure for a month.
  • Some 25 percent were unclear how long they could sustain unopened.
  • Only 11 percent of child care providers reported they could weather the storm for an indeterminate period.

Child care is the unrecognized backbone of our economy. Child care and education providers allow parents to work while also supporting the health, safety, and development of children. Child care infrastructure allows many of our state industries to function. Prior to COVID-19, businesses across the state reported absenteeism, turnover, and staff shortages due to the lack of available child care in their region.[3] Child care closures resulting from the COVID-19 emergency will undermine the eventual economic recovery of the state. Strategic and substantial government intervention can strengthen the state’s child care infrastructure and establish a foundation for a strong recovery.

Oregon and the federal government need to invest boldly and quickly to protect the child care supply. Right now, we need child care providers on the front lines to provide care that is safe, reliable, and nurturing for children of essential workers.

In order to meet these immediate and mid-term needs, we need an investment of state and federal funds. Below are the policy and budget recommendations our organizations support.

First, include child care in your planning and use an equity lens in your process:

  1. Ensure an equity lens is applied to all investments so they reach all providers with targeted support for BIPOC providers. Child care information and directives should be available in a variety of languages and accessible for this very diverse workforce[4] and population served.
  2. Include child care providers in emergency planning. At least two child care providers should be included in advisory groups for emergency management agencies in order to provide input on how best to respond to changing circumstances and environments. Ensure BIPOC provider representation.

Second, establish an emergency child care system utilizing all provider types:

  1. Provide “Hazard Pay” to child care providers to cover the increased cost of care for essential workers due to COVID-19. Funds will ensure they are able to increase staff wages, pay substitutes, provide 24-hour coverage, and get access to supplies and resources needed to keep the environment safe and healthy. Provide immediate support for child care and education providers to meet the child care need for essential workers in a way that is safe and nurturing through this public health emergency. [Estimated at $4.7 million, 30 days for 5,000 kids]
  2. Cover child care expenses for “essential workers” who need child care. Many “essential workers” are using new providers and face costs that they would not typically incur due to increased hours and school closures. For “essential workers” eligible for federal child care subsidy (below 85 percent State Median Income), cover all child care costs without any parent co-pay. For “essential workers” who are not eligible for child care subsidy (above 85 percent State Median Income), cover all COVID-19 related child care costs (i.e. child care costs for school age children, extended hours/days, more expensive care for smaller groups and higher pay for providers, costs above typical pre-COVID-19 child care costs).
  3. Retain critical licensing standards for the health and safety of children and providers. Explore whether to increase standards to ensure safety for children and providers such as reduced child/staff ratios, group size, and sanitation. Ensure “red tape” doesn’t inhibit availability of care. Provide flexibility on timelines for standards such as trainings, in-person licensure visits, and food program monitoring visits.

Third, provide specific support for child care and education providers that close so they remain ready to re-open when the immediate crisis ends to support parents’ return to work and ongoing child development:

  1. Pay all subsidy child care providers the tuition and public subsidy (i.e. ERDC) they would receive if they were open. This would fund fixed costs and help retain staff. Support licensed and regulated providers with sustained relief throughout the COVID-19 crisis period.
  2. Pay non-subsidy child care providers for loss of income and compensate staff during closure, across all care settings, just as the state is doing for the K–12 education system. Pay for fixed costs and staff wages during closures to ensure enough workforce and facilities when the emergency ends. Create a fund to help offset lost tuition. [$85 million for 60 days]
  3. Enroll all child care providers in fixed cost relief efforts. This includes mortgage forbearance, deferral of rents, and support for utilities and insurance for a minimum of three months and up to six months.
  4. Ensure early care and education providers have access to variety of benefits. These include:
  • Small business relief
  • Unemployment Insurance, including self-employed providers
  • Paid Family Leave and Paid Sick Leave

This emergency underscores the need to provide consistent public funding for child care and to ensure a sustainable system that is available and accessible to all that need it. An emergency like this highlights the weakness in our current private funding model for this essential service. Swift action now will set Oregon up for a strong economic recovery and build an environment of care and education that supports our children, families, and businesses, and our nation’s safety, security, and economy.


Child Care Relief Advocates






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