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.