Kindergarten Readiness Programs Support Equity, May Lose Funding

Kindergarten Readiness Programs Support Equity, May Lose Funding

In Oregon, Kindergarten Readiness Partnership and Innovation Grants (KPI) fund a diverse range of programming that supports early school readiness and family engagement, as well as professional development for early childhood and early grades educators. Data shows that KPI programs are especially impactful for children and families from historically underrepresented communities.

-But as COVID-19 began working its way through the state in March and state budget projections have plummeted in its wake, those who work on behalf of young children are facing a challenging new reality: some KPI programs may not have the funding to continue.

That’s unfortunate for thousands of kids and families who benefit from such programs and contrary to the equity goals that the state has laid out for itself. Spanish-speaking children and families are among the historically underrepresented communities that have benefited most from KPI programming.

“We rely on KPI funds to provide a number of our culturally specific early learning and parent engagement programs,” says Sadie Feibel, early childhood director at Latino Network. “These programs are critical for supporting Latinx children and their parents to become confident learners and engaged advocates in our schools.”

On a scale of 1 [definitely disagree] to 5 [definitely agree] all families surveyed reported increased benefits of participating in KPI-funded family engagement programming, but Latinx families showed the greatest levels of growth across a range of school readiness indicators. Source: Early Learning Division, Kindergarten Readiness Partnership & Innovation Grants, Outcomes Survey Summary, 2018

A Systems-Change Strategy, Embedded with Equity

KPI’s vulnerability in the budget may partly be due to the fact that it’s part of a larger effort to drive systems change in early education and early grades learning.

Improving the alignment between what have traditionally been two separate systems of care and support for children and families is the overarching goal of “P-3,” or prenatal to third grade work.  That shift in thinking and approach is a key strategy for closing opportunity and achievement gaps.

“We know that opportunity gaps are evident before children ever step foot in a kindergarten classroom,” says Brooke Chilton-Timmons, early learning coordinator for Multnomah County’s SUN Service System. “So the work to address them really needs to begin much earlier than age 5, and to be truly effective and lasting, it needs to be woven into other supports in the early health and social service sectors.”

Molly Day, director of Multnomah County’s early learning hub, worries that because KPI-funded programming is so innovative, that the big picture, long-term benefits can be hard for some to grasp. She fears that the positive momentum gained over the last seven years of the program will be lost if funding is interrupted.

For those struggling to understand the nuance and complexity of this multi-system, multi-pronged approach, she offers a simple distillation: “KPI work is equity work.” 

Nurturing Family Engagement in Multnomah County

Chau Hunyh, a former P-3 coordinator with the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) worked at Lincoln Elementary in the David Douglas School District. The surrounding neighborhood includes a number of Bhutanese and Nepalese refugee families.

Hunyh served as an important cultural broker between families, the school, and the community, hosting relationship-building parent education events and by connecting families to available food, health, and other resources. She is particularly proud of her work with two Bhutanese parents who are deaf. She was able to connect them to interpretation and other assistance that gave them the confidence to converse with school staff and participate in school-based activities and events like a play and learn group and Bingo night.

Prior to Hunyh’s involvement, no Bhutanese families had registered for a SUN after school program or for summer program opportunities. Afterwards, ten families signed up.

Photo Courtesy of Youth and Family Services Division, SUN Service System, Multnomah County

The work of P-3 coordinators often goes beyond supporting kindergarten readiness, as parent Charmaine Worthy shared in a letter she wrote about Ventura Park Elementary’s P-3 coordinator, Jacqui MacDougal. It reads in part: 

“Jacqui expertly led a week-long program that built a great foundation for those lucky kids – from familiarizing them with their new school environment, to practicing the routines and expectations that their kindergarten teachers would have of them in the weeks to come.

[Her work] has been especially meaningful to us because of financial challenges we’ve experienced in the last few years. From [connections to resources like] Backpack Buddies to food pantries and food boxes offered to us, Jacqui has been a dependable source of comfort, encouragement, and relief at times when we did not have the means to fully provide for ourselves.

We are humbled by the kindness and respect that she has always treated us with. We are so grateful for “Ms Jacqui” and the tireless work that she does for the Ventura Park community.”

From Participants to Parent Leaders 

“P-3 work not only benefits families who receive services, but it also empowers the parents to serve as leaders and advocates for their own communities, from within their own communities,” said Mani Xaybanha, a program specialist for Multnomah County’s SUN Service System.

Xaybanha notes that four former P-3 program participants are now serving as P-3 coordinators in elementary schools. 

“The impact those parents have is amazing,” she said. 

Learn more about the power of parent leadership in this story from our Early Childhood Coalition partner, the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO). (Click image to view)

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.


Hundreds Gather at OMSI to View a Groundbreaking Early Childhood Documentary

Hundreds Gather at OMSI to View a Groundbreaking Early Childhood Documentary

On April 22 and April 29, Children’s Institute and the Oregon Association for the Education of Young Children (ORAEYC) teamed up to host the Oregon premier of the groundbreaking early childhood documentary No Small Matter

Hundreds of parents, child care providers, educators, and advocates came to OMSI for two sold-out screenings of the movie, the first feature-length documentary that aims to kick-start the public conversation about early care and education.  

Following the first screening of the film, Dana Hepper, Children’s Institute’s director of policy and advocacy moderated a panel discussion on Oregon’s early childhood programs and services. She focused on the need for additional state investments to fund early childhood. Member of the Joint Committee On Student Success Representative Diego Hernandez joined Cara Copeland, executive director of the Oregon Association of Relief Nurseries; Andrea Paluso, executive director of Family Forward; and Dorothy Spence, hub director of the Northwest Regional Education Service District on the panel.

Attendees at the second panel heard up-to-the-minute updates from Danielle Pacifico-Cogan, Children’s Institute’s director of community affairs and James Barta, Children First for Oregon’s strategic director on HB 3427. This bill includes historic investments in early childhood programs and services currently moving through the state legislature.

Attendees at both screenings took the opportunity to voice their support for investments in early childhood programs and services. Mother of two Mackenzie Weintraub explained why early childhood matters to her: “My children deserve the best start and so do all children everywhere. It is also important to make a smart investment in our society and get lower rates of incarceration, better health, and more economic success!”

The enthusiasm for the film demonstrates growing support across the state for increased investments in the programs and services that support young children, parents, and the early childhood workforce.  Parents, educators, and child care providers are joining a coalition of more than 30 organizations across the state speaking up on behalf of kids.

What State Leaders Can Do to Help More Students Start Their Education on the Right Track

What State Leaders Can Do to Help More Students Start Their Education on the Right Track

By Allan Golston

Reprinted from Medium with permission from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

Allan Golston visits with students at the Earl Boyles preschool. 

Principal Ericka Guynes could see the problem clearly. Students at Earl Boyles — a Portland, Oregon elementary school where more than four-out-of-five students are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunches — were starting kindergarten at least a year behind where they needed to be, socially and academically. And data showed that despite the school’s best efforts, gaps that started before kindergarten were persisting into later grades. The question was what to do about it.

Following a survey of the community and working closely with the school district and the Children’s Institute, the school started an early intervention classroom. After more than a year of additional planning, the school opened its own preschool in partnership with Head Start/Early Intervention. Fast forward to 2019, Principal Guynes and the team at Earl Boyles now face a different problem…

“Students are now coming into kindergarten where they need to be, and we’ve actually had to adjust our curriculum and increase the rigor in later grades because our students are ready to learn at that level. It’s ever-evolving,” Principal Guynes explained to me during a visit to Oregon to meet with early learning leaders last month.

Visiting with Principal Guynes and meeting with some of the teachers and parents at the school, I was inspired by the progress they’ve made, as well as their commitment to meeting the needs of their community and ensuring that students are starting their educational journey on the right track.

There are schools across the country that have similarly focused on Pre-K as a critical milestone for students (which research backs up) and acted on that information. But it does raise the question — is there more policymakers can do to help more kids attend high quality Pre-K programs like the one at Earl Boyles Elementary? (Spoiler: the answer is “yes!”)

 Currently, 1.5 million children are being served by state Pre-K programs across the country, with another 730,000 4-year-olds enrolled in Head Start. And as governors from across the country gather in Washington, D.C. this week to discuss crucial issues facing states, I hope they will spend some time discussing ways those children can be better-served through consistent, high-quality Pre-K programs.

While the majority of our foundation’s investments are directed towards supporting secondary and post-secondary student success — particularly among low-income families and students of color — our Early Learning strategy is centered on learning and codifying strategies for improving quality of state-administered Pre-K programs. We are doing this work in partnership with Washington State, Oregon, and Tennessee. As we work with partners to improve the quality of Pre-K programs in those states, we hope to learn best practices and share those lessons with other states.

Based on work we’ve done with researchers, program leaders, advocates, and other funders, we have a much clearer sense today of what it means to be a “quality” public Pre-K program. Certain program elements — things like a strong curriculum and positive interactions between children and families — help secure lasting gains for young learners. When these elements of quality are in place, it makes sense to maximize public investment.

There are also policies states can put in place that make delivering quality programs more likely and reliable. Here are three policy considerations that deserve more attention:

1. Increasing funding for Pre-K is great. But increasing predictable, streamlined, and sustained funding for quality Pre-K is even better. While many states are increasing funding for Pre-K, early learning programs across the country don’t have the resources to improve their quality. And where there is funding in place, the complicated nature of tangled funding streams across federal, state, and district dollars both increases unpredictability and puts a large administrative burden on school staff — which can detract from emphasizing quality.

2. Support early learning educators with professional learning opportunities. The low wages Pre-K teachers are paid, coupled with the expense of continuing their education and certification, often leads to many Pre-K educators leaving their classrooms in pursuit other opportunities. As a result, we’re losing lots of great Pre-K teachers across the country. States should prioritize professional learning for educators that can help them grow, earn degrees, and continually improve their craft, which will make it more likely they’ll stay in Pre-K classrooms.

3. Use data not just to track compliance, but to drive improvement. The story of Earl Boyles Elementary reinforces the power of providing leaders with quality data they can use to engage their community and improve the type of instruction students receive. Pre-K program providers, K-12 schools, and communities can similarly use data to “connect-the-dots” and show how students are doing as they start kindergarten, how they progress from grade to grade, and to make sure that the social, emotional, and academic gains students receive in quality Pre-K programs are being sustained over time.

Research has shown that if students receive a high-quality Pre-K experience that includes strong teacher-child connections, skilled and supported educators, and a strong curriculum, they are far less likely to fall behind in the first place. They are also more likely to read earlier, graduate from high school on time, and are more likely to go to college. School leaders like Ericka Guynes and the team at Earl Boyles are making those opportunities a reality for their students. I hope state leaders in D.C. this week explore how they can do the same.

Parents, Educators Call for “More Time, More Hours” to Improve Early Special Education Outcomes

Parents, Educators Call for “More Time, More Hours” to Improve Early Special Education Outcomes

The transition to kindergarten is tough for a lot of kids, but for those with developmental delays and disabilities, it can be especially challenging.

Tristan Davis, who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder through Early Intervention (EI) services offered by the Clackamas Educational Service District, was primarily non-verbal when he began preschool at Sunset Primary’s Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) classroom. 

His mom Tracey described preschool-aged Tristan as a happy boy who struggled with regulation and anxiety. Looking back, Tracey says she was nervous as Tristan began preparing for the transition to kindergarten as his ECSE preschool class met for only two and half hours each day, a few days a week.

She compared that to the experience of her older son, Anthony, who attended a traditional preschool program for five hours a day, 3–4 days a week. 

 “[Tristan’s] teacher, Eric, was amazing with him, but I noticed there was not a lot of consistency with the aides who were there. They seemed to have more children than help, sometimes. There were children all across the board developmentally.”

Tracey, who later became a special education paraeducator, is frank about the reality of EI/ECSE services given current funding levels, including the impact that pay and other workforce issues have on the special education field.

 “Eric does it because he loves it and he’s great at it. But he was definitely not paid what he should have been.”

When asked what might have made more of a difference for Tristan as he transitioned to kindergarten, Tracey said, “More time, more hours.”

EI/ECSE Saves Taxpayer Dollars, But Is Still Underfunded

Tracey’s recollection of the stretched resources in her son’s classroom echoes reports from Children’s Institute and others that shows most children in EI/ECSE programs are not being served at recommended levels.

According to state data, only 28 percent of children enrolled in EI programming receive the recommended level of service. On average, children enrolled in ECSE with high needs only receive 8.7 hours of preschool per week, rather than the  recommended 15 hours per week. EI service levels have actually decreased by an average of 70 percent from 2004 to 2016.

The governor’s latest budget proposal devotes $45.6 million to EI/ECSE, about $30 million less than what the Early Childhood Coalition and the Alliance for Early Intervention says is needed to adequately serve children. In the 2014–15 school year, more than 21 percent of children exiting EI had caught up with their peers and did not require ECSE services, saving the state nearly $4 million annually. 

Those who work in the field see the need firsthand. Carla Moody Starr, a speech language pathologist on the EI/ECSE evaluation team at the Northwest Regional Educational Service District, says EI/ECSE evaluation staff are often the first point of contact for families who may be overwhelmed, in shock, or in a state of grief if their child is significantly delayed. 

We take into consideration family and child trauma, socio-economic differences, language, and cultural differences— being sensitive to parents, but also educating and advocating for their child is an art. More service is needed for kids with developmental or communication delays before kindergarten. More service is needed for family coaching and education as well. Without adequate EI/ECSE service, these children with disabilities may not develop the skills they need to be successful once they enter elementary school.”


Despite insufficient funding for EI/ECSE services, Tracey has high praise for the West Linn-Wilsonville school district’s ability to provide a wide array of resources to support her son’s learning and development.

In advance of his kindergarten school year, Tracey met with the staff at Trillium Creek Primary School to map out an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

“Before school started, his kindergarten teacher left Tristan this long [voicemail] message saying, ‘I know you can’t talk to me, but I want you to know I’m so excited to see you.’ It meant so much to him and so much to me.

“I was so lucky with West Linn. My rent is outrageous and I’m a single mom, but I really felt there was never a question of—does he really need this? His teacher noticed he liked to jump and they got him an indoor trampoline, just in case he needed to jump it out.  They just want him to be successful. That’s the community they foster there.”

EI/ECSE Supports Broader Inclusion Efforts

West-Linn Wilsonville is considered a full-inclusion district, meaning both neurotypical children and children with special education needs are taught in the same classroom. While the Oregon Department of Education sets a state target of 73 percent of special education students being served in a general education classroom, West-Linn Wilsonville far exceeds that standard, reporting that 85.7 percent of its special education students are served in that setting.

Tristan is now a third grader at Trillium Creek Primary and Tracey reports that he’s doing well.  “He loves school and has many friends that he loves. He still has hard days and struggles with anxiety. Overall, school has been a positive experience for him. His team is always communicating with me, and I feel they are invested in his success and happiness.”

Benefits For Typically Developing Peers

Ginny Scelza is a parent of two children who attended the Multnomah Early Childhood Program (MECP), operated by the David Douglas School District. The program runs preschool classes at 11 locations across six school districts and offers an inclusive environment where children with special education needs learn alongside typically developing children.

Ginny, whose son and daughter are typically developing admits that her interest in the program was due to the affordable cost and convenient location, initially just a few minutes from her home.  MECP tuition costs $32 a month for a twice-a-week program, much less than private preschool programs in the area. Free and reduced tuition is available for qualifying families. 

“The fact that the preschool was in the same building that [my son] would be in for kindergarten was a big draw—that made so much sense.”

Ginny also valued the program’s emphasis on social emotional development.

“I saw [preschool] as a transition from the home environment to a classroom community. How do you share? How do you develop friendships? How do you work as part of a team?  Having my kids in the program helped strengthen their empathy for other people and that was more important to me than academics.”

Ginny credits the program for creating a smooth transition to kindergarten for both her children. She also notes that the benefits of such programs have a positive effect that goes beyond just those children who have disabilities and delays. 

“At age 3 or 4, [my daughter] was learning that kids who were in wheelchairs or needed extra help—they were also a part of her school community. It was normal. How does that not become part of who you are?”


Learn More and Support Increased Funding for EI/ECSE Services

EI/ECSE 2019 Fact Sheet

Oregon Must Invest More in Young Children With Disabilities: A Conversation With FACT Oregon’s Executive Director

Join us and a growing coalition of Early Childhood advocates in requesting an addition $75 million investment to increase service levels for children with disabilities and delays. 


Oregon’s Relief Nurseries Support Families and Keep Kids Out of Foster Care

Oregon’s Relief Nurseries Support Families and Keep Kids Out of Foster Care

Oregon’s nationally recognized Relief Nursery model serves families with children ages 0–5 who are most at-risk for abuse and neglect. In 2019, Children’s Institute is joining a coalition of early childhood advocates to request an additional $5.6 million in funding for Relief Nurseries to strengthen parent-child bonds and decrease abuse. We spoke with the Association of Oregon Relief Nurseries Executive Director Cara Copeland to learn more the need for additional investments in these critical programs.

All photos in this story were taken at the Chelsea’s Place Family Building Blocks Relief Nursery in Salem.

Children’s Institute: Can you explain how Relief Nurseries, which are unique to Oregon, use a multidisciplinary approach to serve children and families?

Cara Copeland: Relief Nurseries have been in Oregon for just over 40 years. The core model relies on three things: a therapeutic classroom for children, home visiting for parents, and parent education. A lot of our children are behind developmentally, so we work one-on-one to make sure they’re ready for kindergarten, focusing on the social emotional development of kids ages 0­–5. The home visiting and parent education provide tools and emotional support. Many Relief Nurseries also have other supports: they might have food and diapers available, or mental health, drug and alcohol counseling, or peer services.

CI: Why do you think the ages birth to 5 are such a critical time for kids and families?

Cara Copeland: Research shows that a child’s brain is 80 percent developed by age 3. The first 1,000 days are the most critical. We know that if you don’t invest in that child in the first three years, you’re compromising that child���s future capacity.


There’s no wrong door.

Cara Copeland explains how families can connect with a Relief Nursery. 

“When a new Relief Nursery starts in a community, typically families come to us via referral. The idea is that there’s no wrong door, and there’s one piece of paper that a pediatrician could fill out, a DHS worker, a self-sufficiency worker, an employment office, or a WIC provider. The Early Learning Hubs have been integral in helping communities, either partnering alongside what communities are already doing to coordinate referrals, or to instigate that process. Over time, what we’ve seen across virtually every Relief Nursery is that within a couple of years, most referrals are self-referrals: families in the program refer their friends. We build trust within a community, and that’s what’s really important.”

This is also an important time for a family to establish healthy patterns, especially for a first birth. Forty-five percent of children reported to be abused or neglected are under age 6, and 12 percent of children who suffer abuse are under age 1, according to the Oregon DHS 2017 Child Welfare Data Book. Many of our families are products of abuse, generational neglect, substance abuse, and incarceration. In those first few years when they are becoming a family, if we can establish some patterns of interaction and parent-child attachment, that’s going to serve that family for the long haul.

CI: How do Relief Nurseries help establish those healthy patterns for families?

Cara Copeland: Sometimes people think of Relief Nurseries as child care or preschool. We do serve families that are raising children of preschool age, and we do care for their children, but we are neither child care nor a preschool program. We’re focused on building the five protective factors in families: concrete supports, social supports, understanding of child development, social-emotional competence of children, and parental resilience. When parents have something traumatic happen to them—homelessness, food insecurity, domestic violence—that’s where relief nurseries step in, to build parental resilience along with these other supports. We can’t guarantee that life is going to get easier, but we can help give parents tools to stand up when life is hard.

CI: What kind of impact have Relief Nurseries had in Oregon?

Cara Copeland: Across the state Relief Nurseries serve about 3,000 children, and about 2,600 families. Forty percent of the families coming to us are already involved in child welfare. Statewide our families have an average of 16 risk factors associated with a higher likelihood of abuse and neglect, which often lead to foster care. Across the state, our most recent independent evaluation showed that 98 percent of our children required no further foster care placement after they entered Relief Nursery services. Parents love their children and they really want to parent, and we’re often their last chance at keeping their kids.

We need a strong foster system. We need quality foster parents, and we need to support our foster parents. But my goal would be that at some point we have no need for foster care. Can you even imagine? I think that’s a worthy goal to fight for.

The Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences

Cara Copeland explains why trauma-informed care is critical to preventing child abuse and supporting families. 

Children’s Institute and many other early childhood advocacy groups from across the state recognize the value of Relief Nurseries and have joined together to request a $5.6 million investment in Relief Nurseries that help prevent child abuse and strengthen parent-child bonds. 

Learn more about our 2019 Policy Recommendations and add your voice in support of programs that support healthy and intact families. 

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