Kelli Stevens speaks with House Speaker Kotek about Preschool Promise.
Kelli Stevens, a mother with three children ages 5, 3, and 1, made the two-hour trip from her home in Yoncalla to the state capitol in Salem on Monday to join a coalition of early childhood advocates for meetings with state lawmakers. Ms. Stevens’ 5-year-old is in kindergarten this year and was in the first Preschool Promise class offered in Yoncalla last year. Her 3-year-old started Preschool Promise this year, and her 1-year-old is enrolled in Early Head Start. Speaking with Governor Brown, House Speaker Kotek (N/NE Portland), Senator Monroe (Clackamas), and Representative Lively (Springfield), Ms. Stevens described the profound impact the programs have had on both her children and her parenting.
“I watched my 3-year-old blossom from a really shy child into a very social girl,” she said. Her kindergartener started the school year ready to learn, and Ms. Stevens reported that she would not have the parenting skills she does were it not for the parenting education provided by the program.
Advocates across Oregon agree on the importance of full funding for early childhood programs that help keep children healthy, safe, and ready to learn. Thirty-five parents, childcare providers, Early Learning Hub leaders, advocates, and Ready for School leaders met with 16 legislators and the governor. Some were regular visitors to the state capitol and others like Ms. Stevens were coming for the first time. Together they asked Oregon lawmakers to restore cuts made to early childhood systems and programs in 2017, invest in childcare safety, provide funds to assess and invest in culturally specific early learning programs, and improve access to training for childcare providers.
Robert Harding described his experiences as a child to Governor Kate Brown. Raised by a single mother who immigrated from Brazil, Mr. Harding, now a senior vice president at Columbia Bank in Portland, said that the Head Start program he was enrolled in as a child changed his life. “The program taught me to read and put me on the right trajectory,” he said, and the after-school program at the Head Start kept him safe.
Representative Lively, who has long been a champion for early education, listened to Bess Day, an advocate from the United Way of Lane County, describe the success of the Kids in Transition to School (KITS) Program providing support to children prior to the start of kindergarten to improve literacy, self-regulation, and social skills. One young girl described by Ms. Day who needed these interventions, in Robert Harding shares his experiences with Governor Brown order to be ready for school is now the
“star” of her kindergarten class. KITS changed this young student’s first experiences with school and set her on a better course for her academic future.
On the whole lawmakers were receptive to the message: early education works, and investing in the health, safety, and education of young children pays off down the road. With a challenging budget facing them, it remains to be seen how much money lawmakers will invest in these important programs. Representative Nathanson, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means explained that the legislature is in “receiving mode” right now, “receiving information about priorities” before any decisions are made about how to allocate funding. Decisions will begin to be made after the state receives an updated forecast on Friday, telling lawmakers how much money they expect to collect during this two-year budget.