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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Rob Grunewald on the Economic Impact of Early Childhood Investments

Rob Grunewald on the Economic Impact of Early Childhood Investments

In this episode of The Early Link Podcast, we speak with Rob Grunewald, an economist who advocates for investments in early childhood programs and services.

Rob Grunewald is an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. He conducts research on community development and regional economic issues and co-authored a report called “Early Childhood Development: Economic Development with a High Public Return.”


There are 12 Federal Reserve banks in the US, and the Minneapolis Federal Reserve serves Minnesota, northern WI and MI, Dakotas, and Montana. The mission of the Federal Reserve banks is to provide the nation with stable monetary policy and a safe and flexible financial system. This includes deciding which investments will have the most positive effect on the local economy. 

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’ interest in supporting early childhood development programs is important because these programs are rarely portrayed as economic development initiatives. If such programs exist they are usually at the bottom of the economic development lists for state and local governments. However, research has shown that is a mistake. Early childhood development programs should be at the top of the list. Most of the numerous projects and initiatives that state and local governments fund in the name of creating new private businesses and new jobs result in few public benefits. In contrast, studies liked the ones cited in Grunewald’s report find that well-focused investments in early childhood development yield high public as well as private returns.

Recommended Reading

“Early Childhood Development: Economic Development with a High Public Return”

“The Promise of Early Childhood Development in Indian County”

We’re Working to Ensure the Benefits of Preschool Last

We’re Working to Ensure the Benefits of Preschool Last

In 2015, a landmark study by Vanderbilt University found that the benefits of Tennessee’s pre-K program didn’t last. It’s not the first time researchers have questioned the long-term impact of high-quality preschool. 

“Many early childhood stakeholders have been discussing and arguing about whether Head Start ‘works’ ever since the beginnings of Head Start. The first big report on the ‘fadeout’ effect of Head Start was in 2010, and that raised questions as to whether or not Head Start was effective in improving academic outcomes for children,” says Soobin Oh, Children’s Institute’s senior early education advisor. 

Why Do Gains Made in Preschool Fade?

New research into the same Tennessee program, released in July and discussed in Chalkbeat last week, begins to answer the question of why gains made in preschool might not last. According to Chalkbeat: 

“Pre-K benefits wore off if participants went on to classes with ineffective teachers, in low-quality schools, or both—with preschool graduates eventually faring even worse than their peers who didn’t attend pre-K. 

“The study adds to emerging literature showing that pre-K is not a cure-all to later factors like poor instruction and a poor learning environment, said Dale Farran, a Vanderbilt University professor involved with both studies.”

“We can’t depend upon pre-K to cure a K–12 system that’s not working for poor families,” Farran said. “We can’t put the blame on children who are placed in low performing schools and then just say that they weren’t ready. If we really care about children from low-income families and the schools that serve them, we’ve got to take a bigger view.”

Early School Success Is an Approach to Sustaining Preschool Benefits

The idea that instruction during elementary school must build on preschool is the basis of our Early School Success (ESS) initiative. “This Tennessee study supports our new work with districts to build high-quality, well-sequenced experiences for the early elementary grades. This will ensure investments in preschool pay off in the long-term,” explains Dr. Marina Merrill, our director of research & strategy. 

Soobin Oh adds: 

“Early childhood education and care does not exist within a vacuum. Ensuring practices are consistently high-quality and aligned is critical to sustaining benefits.  We need to move towards applying the research of child development, which implies that childhood should be treated by the education system as one continuum, whereas most people tend to separate and make distinctions between birth to 5 and elementary education.”

The Impact of Racism on Children’s Health and Education Outcomes

The Impact of Racism on Children’s Health and Education Outcomes

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a new policy statement this month, “The Impact of Racism on Child and Adolescent Health.” The statement explores the impact of structural, personally mediated, and internalized racism on children’s development and health outcomes. It acknowledges racism as a cause of health disparities observed between different races, such as maternal mortality rates.

According to the 16-page policy statement: “These health inequities are not the result of individual behavior choices or genetic predisposition but are caused by economic, political, and social conditions, including racism.”

Structural racism impacts where children live, where they learn and how they’re taught, and their socio-economic status, all of which in turn affect their health outcomes. In particular, the report identifies the close relationship between health and education:

“Educational achievement is an important predictor of long-term health outcomes for children. … It is critical for pediatricians to recognize the institutional, personally mediated, and internalized levels of racism that occur in the educational setting because education is a critical social determinant of health for children.”

The statement challenges pediatricians to think differently about racial disparities, considering the social conditions, including racism that cause such disparities. Addressing the impact of racism on the health and well-being of children is necessary in order for our health system to meet the needs of all patients. 

The statement closes with a set of recommendations to pediatricians to better serve children of color by improving clinical care and workforce development, engaging in systems and policy change, and impacting research. According to Elena Rivera, our senior health policy and program advisor, these recommendations resonate with Children’s Institute’s approach to developing our Health and Learning Initiative with a health equity lens.

A brief explanation of ACEs – Adverse Childhood Experiences

A brief explanation of ACEs – Adverse Childhood Experiences

Reporting contributed by Niki Reading

The idea that early childhood experiences help shape the trajectory of a person’s life—in both positive and negative ways—makes intuitive sense to most. But thanks to pioneering research and advocacy in the field of childhood trauma, our understanding of the connection between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and lifelong health outcomes has grown exponentially in the last two decades.

A Foundational Study: ACEs

The Adverse Childhood Experiences study, or ACE Study, was conducted by researchers at Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the late 1990s. They sought to examine the impact of specific negative childhood experiences and conditions on long-term health. ACEs fall into three categories: abuse, neglect, and family/household challenges. The categories capture experiences like mental illness experienced by family members, physical and substance abuse, divorce, and physical and emotional neglect. 

In the study of more than 17,000 adults, researchers found that those with a high number of ACEs were at much greater risk for negative health outcomes like obesity, depression, sexually transmitted diseases, heart disease, broken bones, stroke, and even cancer. Those risks remained even when lifestyle choices like smoking and drinking were factored in. A high number of ACEs also affected life potential such as lowering academic achievement and increasing the amount of sick time taken off from work.

The study also found that the impact of ACEs was cumulative: the more ACEs a person had, the more likely that person was to suffer from negative health outcomes.

A Growing Movement

A movement to recognize, treat, and prevent ACEs has now bloomed, led by pioneers in the field like Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician and founder of the Center for Youth Wellness in San Francisco. In her book and related TED Talk, Burke Harris chronicles efforts to bring greater awareness of and treatment for ACEs into clinical practice.

A key strategy to fighting the effects of ACEs, according to Burke Harris and other experts, is to take a multidisciplinary approach—integrating physical and mental health, research, policy, education, and family supports.

What We Can Do to Fight ACEs

The effects of ACEs can be mitigated and treated, and recognizing this is an important first step in improving outcomes for children and families. In children who experience a high number of ACEs, having close relationships with stable adults—like teachers or grandparents—can help build resilience and make a big difference in lifelong health and wellness.

In Oregon, recognition and awareness of ACEs is increasingly widespread in education and public health circles, but funding and support for effective intervention and preventive programs remains challenging.

That’s why Children’s Institute and others continue to advocate for evidence-based programs like
voluntary home visiting for pregnant mothers, parent training classes, high-quality child care, mental illness, and substance abuse treatment. These programs can change the trajectory of long-term health outcomes for families and children.

Stay tuned for our upcoming story on ACEs which features the Gladstone School District’s approach to recognizing the impact of ACEs on students and to providing safe, structured learning environments for their students.


Read More: What We Know About Early Childhood Trauma  

“Take the ACE Quiz — And Learn What It Does And Doesn’t Mean,” NPR


Oregon’s Child Care Crisis

Oregon’s Child Care Crisis

Oregon is in a child care crisis. As many working parents know, finding reliable and affordable child care from a trusted provider is not easy. According to a study by the Center for American Progress, Oregon is a child care desert, defined as a place where there are more than three children per licensed, available child care slot. Infant-toddler care in Oregon is even scarcer, with 6.8 children per slot. These findings, in addition to Oregon’s ranking as the third-least affordable state for licensed, center-based care adds to mounting evidence that Oregon’s child care system is in dire straits.  Our state’s inability to build a supply of quality child care options for working families threatens the safe and healthy development of our most vulnerable young children.

Every day across Oregon, thousands of young children are cared for by people other than their parents. Parents need this child care to be safe and reliable. At the same time, young children need responsive and nurturing relationships with caregivers to stimulate their growing brains. Babies are born learners and what happens in early childhood largely shapes their later life experiences.

When it Comes to Child Care, Quality Matters

Quality child care is provided by well-trained caregivers who understand and can support a young child’s brain development. This level of care supports early education, teaching young children foundational reading, writing, and math skills that stimulate their rapidly growing brains and strengthens their natural love of learning Well-trained and skilled child care providers may also be the first adult in a young child’s life to recognize an emerging developmental delay or disability.

Providers know, and brain research conducted over decades tells us, that the early years from birth to 5 are a time of profound brain development, when the opportunity to positively influence children’s social-emotional and decision-making skills is greatest. Children who receive quality care in their early years are more likely to be ready for kindergarten, read proficiently at third grade, graduate from high school, and attend college. As adults, they are healthier, earn higher incomes, and are less likely to have interactions with the criminal justice system.  

Quality Care Comes at a Price

Licensed and regulated care for babies and toddlers is extremely expensive to provide. Child care is labor-intensive work and licensed settings are required to follow safety and staffing ratios. This makes it difficult to economize on the largest share of their overhead costs, which are devoted to payroll. Oregon recently earned the undesirable distinction of being the third-least affordable state in the country for center-based care. According to the Economic Policy Institute, one year of infant and toddler day care in Oregon is more expensive than public college tuition.

Child care subsidy programs like Employment Related Day Care (ERDC) have not been able to sufficiently address child care costs for low-income Oregonians, who also pay some of the highest co-pays in the nation for care.  

This means that many parents, whether they are paying the full cost of child care or are eligible for subsidies, find quality child care extremely difficult—if not impossible—to afford. 

Despite High Costs, Providers are Still Paid Far Too Little

Adding to the economic complexity of child care is the fact that we just don’t pay early childhood workers enough for the important work we expect them to do. In Oregon, wages in 2017 for child care workers averaged $11.47 per hour—on par with the earnings of office receptionists, janitors, and general laborers. Not surprisingly, the early childhood profession suffers from high turnover.   

Given the high costs of child care that parents already pay, it is not feasible to expect them to pay even more to increase wages for child care providers. In countries with economies similar to the United States, child care costs are heavily subsidized by governments or employers. Solving the problem in a comprehensive or sustainable way will be difficult without a major commitment from Congress, along with increased state and private investment. If we continue to leave families to solve the issue of child care on their own, our entire state will suffer. 

What Happens When There is No Care? 

After analyzing data from 22 states, the Center for American Progress found that more than half of Americans are now living in “child care deserts”—neighborhoods or communities where there are more than three children for every licensed child care slot.

In 2016, the Center for American Progress borrowed terminology from the frequently studied issue of food deserts to create a working definition of child care deserts. 

Not surprisingly, finding high-quality child care is especially difficult for families who:

  • earn low-income wages
  • need infant or toddler care
  • live in rural areas
  • have children with developmental delays or disabilities
  • need “off-hours” or weekend care due to non-traditional work schedules

Immigrant and refugee communities, and communities of color are also disproportionately impacted by the lack of access to affordable quality care.

In a follow-up analysis of infant-toddler care across nine states and the District of Columbia, CAP compiled child care supply data from every county in Oregon. Notably, a greater percentage of families living in more remote areas suffered from an under supply of infant-toddler compared to those in urban centers.

A Closer Look at the Child Care Crisis in Oregon

Click tables to enlarge. 

An Opportunity for Oregon

Very simply, the child care crisis affects all of us, not just those with young children. As a nation, we lose an estimated $8.3 billion a year in wages from parents who miss work due to a lack of child care. If Oregon continues to be a child care desert, businesses across the state will continue to lose workers.

Our failure to invest in child care systems has longer-term effects, too. Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman found that early childhood programs don’t just positively impact educational, health, and economic outcomes for children, but increase the work productivity of their parents, reduce crime, and improve property values, among other community benefits. Overall, Heckman estimates that investments in early childhood programs generate a 7–13 percent economic return rate.

“High-quality, reliable child care pays for the entire program before the child enters kindergarten. The economic gains of freeing mothers to enter the workforce, build skills and earn income pays for the cost of the program in the short-term while long-term benefits for children accrue into adulthood.”

James Heckman, Nobel Laureate Economist

Strengthening the Child Care System

Children’s Institute believes Oregon can make progress on the child care crisis by strengthening and stabilizing existing programs that work, focusing on the areas of highest need, and increasing the numbers of qualified workers. Oregon’s child care landscape is incredibly complex, but one thing is clear—access to high-quality child care is a critical part of the support young children need to stay safe, be healthy, and grow into successful adults. Learn more about our specific recommendations to help Oregon fund a child care system that works for all of us.

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