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Victory!

 

The Children’s Institute, Ready for School advocates and a broad range of partners worked together to win some huge victories for Oregon’s young children during the 2015 Oregon legislative session. We focused especially on three priorities, all of which won support from the Legislature for the 2015-2017 biennium:

 

  • Expanding Access to High Quality Preschool: A $27 million investment in high-quality preschool for more children from low-income Oregon families. The legislation allows a mix of preschool providers – Head Start programs, school districts and private community preschools – to receive state funding to help ensure that children from low-income families are ready for kindergarten and on track for long-lasting school success.

 

  • Expanding Evidence-Based Home Visiting: $9.5 million in evidence-based home-visiting programs for at-risk families of young children, from prenatally to three years old.

 

  • Expanding the Kindergarten Partnership & Innovation Fund: An additional $5 million to continue Oregon’s Kindergarten Partnership and Innovation Fund, which provides grant to communities and school districts to connect the early years to the early grades.

 

In addition to these successes, we are thrilled that the Legislature also made several other important investments in early learning, including supporting the rollout of full-day kindergarten, expanding access to subsidized child care and beginning pilot projects focused on chronic absence among Native American students and the achievement gap among children of color. Find out more on our post-session blog post.

Ready for School Policy News and Blogs

  • Oregon Announces Preschool Promise Awardees

    low 2014 09 12 018Last week, Oregon's Early Learning Division announced their Preschool Promise award recommendations. The announcement marks an important step in the state’s process to increase publicly funded preschool opportunities for low-income children in Oregon. Preschool Promise, or House Bill 3380, was passed by the Oregon Legislature in 2015 with the goal of providing high-quality preschool in a variety of settings. Preschool Promise expands the types and number of providers that can receive funding for high-quality preschool programs in the state, and increases the number of families and children that are able to access the services. Early Learning Division staff estimate that the implementation of Preschool Promise will mean that approximately 1,300 more Oregon children will receive high-quality preschool in the 2016-2017 school year.

    Gwyn Bachtle, an Early Learning Specialist in the Early Learning Division described the visionary goal of the new program as, “having children in programs that are quality-rated…and really working to increase the capacity of our communities.”

    An award team, composed of state executive staff and three Early Learning Council members, reviewed applications from Early Learning hubs around the state. The hubs will be responsible for contracting with local providers and implementing the new preschool programming in their communities. Applications were evaluated based on demonstrated need; the capacity to support a mixed-delivery model; and the capacity to support high-quality preschool programs.

    In total, ten hubs submitted a total of seven applications (one application was a joint application including multiple hubs) – with their combined requests reflecting the preschool needs of more than 2,600 children. Five of the seven applications were approved for funding, and these hubs will be working with the Early Learning Division closely in the upcoming weeks and months – gaining technical assistance and finalizing contracts with providers.

    Awardees of 2016-17 Preschool Promise funding:

    • Marion and Polk Early Learning Hub
    • South-Central Oregon Early Learning Hub
    • Lane Early Learning Alliance
    • Southern Oregon Early Learning Hub
    • NW Regional Joint Application
      • NW Regional Early Learning Hub
      • Early Learning Washington County
      • Early Learning Multnomah
      • Clackamas Early Learning Hub

    The Preschool Promiseannouncement is, as Molly Day, Early Learning Multnomah Director says, "a big deal. The state is deciding to invest in preschool, for its residents who are furthest from opportunity. Families in poverty, families that aren't being served now...it is a lot of change all at once, and that makes it challenging, but it is a wonderful opportunity."

    "We hope this is just the beginning," says Dana Hepper, Children's Institute Director of Policy and Program. "There are many disadvantaged Oregon children who still lack access to high-quality preschool." In fact, three-quarters of Oregon's young children still don't have access.

    "The Children's Institute is supporting the state to ensure successful implementation of Preschool Promise," Hepper says. "We look forward to seeing the program grow."

    Read more

  • Take Action: Keeping the Promise

    rfs stacked one line outlinedIn 2015, the Oregon Legislature made a promise to Oregon's children. They invested in Preschool Promise, a program that will provide high-quality preschool to more than 1,000 kids from low-income families.

    This critical investment is now being threatened and we need your help!

    Pick up the phone and call the leaders of the Ways and Means Committee. We hope you'll help us ensure that Oregon keeps its promise to underserverd children.

    Here's your talking points, including who to call.

    Read more

  • The 2016 legislative session: continuing to work for Oregon's underserved children

    rfs stacked one line outlinedOregon's 2016 legislative session begins on February 1 and the Children's Institute is already meeting with legislators and attending hearings to discuss issues impacting Oregon’s at-risk young children and families. We have developed an advocacy platform built on the foundation of our 2015 legislative victories.

    The Children’s Institute’s 2016 legislative priorities include:

    • Releasing the $17.5 million allocated to begin the Preschool Promise program and start providing preschool to more than 1,000 3- and 4-year-olds in the 2016-17 school year. Preschool Promise was created by the 2015 Oregon Legislature’s approval of House Bill 3380, which envisioned a future where all low-income children have access to a high-quality preschool that will meet their needs. Stakeholders have spent the past eight months fleshing out the details for how to spend this money, and now the Legislature must move the funds to the Early Learning Division of the Oregon Department of Education so that it can distribute the funds to the communities most ready to pilot the new approach.
    • Fixing a $5.2 million Head Start budgeting mistake. During the 2015 legislative session, lawmakers thought they were allocating $8.7 million to expand access to Head Start for low-income preschoolers. But due to a staff error in estimating the cost to continue the existing services, Head Start only received $3.5 million in new funding. This has left hundreds of Oregon’s most vulnerable children unserved.
    • Allocating $5.4 million to ensure young Oregon children who are identified with developmental delays get the help and services they need. Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education services help children from birth to five years old with a diagnosed developmental delay, along with their families. With Oregon’s commitment to universal developmental screenings, more children with delays are being identified earlier and accessing services. Unfortunately, funding for the program has remained essentially flat while the number of children and families served continues to grow. Intervening early saves money down the road in reduced special education costs.

    Through the Early Works program, the Children’s Institute has deepened our understanding of how important early learning opportunities are for Oregon’s young children. At Earl Boyles Elementary in east Portland, we see the smiling faces of 3- and 4-year-olds entering the preschool. And we hear from kindergarten teachers, reinforced by the data, about how dramatically preschool is improving these children’s school readiness. At Yoncalla Elementary in Yoncalla, we work with a wonderful community preschool struggling to meet growing parent demand while lacking local funding.

    These stories mirror communities across Oregon. Getting more children served in high-quality early learning remains a top priority for The Children’s Institute. We will be working throughout the legislative session over the next several weeks to urge legislators to continue making headway for Oregon’s youngest children. We will also continue to report on our progress and on developments during the session.

    Read more

  • State releases chronic absence data, will now release annually

    low 2014-05-29 041Last week, the Oregon Department of Education for the first time released detailed data on chronic absence of students in K-12 schools throughout the state.

    The release of the information – which will now happen annually – represents a major victory for Oregon education; the data will allow educators to better understand who is at risk for becoming chronically absent and where to target specific interventions that might help fix the problem.

    The Oregonian and theBend Bulletin both covered the release of the data last week; their articles included comments from Children’s Institute President and CEO Swati Adarkar.

    The release also is a landmark in a long process of Children’s Institute advocacy. The Children’s Institute and our partners – Upstream Public Health, the Chalkboard Project, Stand for Children, and the Oregon Business Association – have been working with ODE officials for months on this issue and encouraging release of the data.

    Chronic absence – defined as a student missing 10 percent or more of school days – is a significant problem in Oregon. And students who are chronically absent, especially in kindergarten and the early grades, are far more likely to drop out of high school. Simply by improving attendance in their early years of school, students can significantly increase their chances of graduating high school, attending college, and going on to reach their potential.

    That’s why understanding the problem with detailed data is so important.The new data provides chronic absence rates at the school district and school level, and will disaggregate these numbers to show chronic absence among racial, economic and other groups.

    “We know that good attendance habits established early on lead to later school success,” says Children’s Institute President and CEO Swati Adarkar. “With Oregon’s recent significant investment in full-day kindergarten, this a perfect opportunity to connect this data with improving student attendance and future student achievement.”

    Read more

  • Congress considering programs with huge impact on Oregon children, families

    20120216.EarlBoyles.0760Last week, early childhood advocates from across the country came together in Washington, D.C., to learn from each other and talk with partners focused on federal policy connected to our local work. While there, I was able to meet with Oregon Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici and staffers for Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden to talk about how Congress is making decisions that can directly improve the lives of young Oregon children and their families.

    The most timely issue right now is the Congressional appropriations process. Congress is negotiating a budget that will set funding levels for critical early learning programs serving children in Oregon. The current debate centers on whether to lift proposed spending caps on non-defense domestic spending – including funding for early learning programs like Head Start and preschool, childcare subsidies for working parents and child nutrition programs. Currently none of these important programs can meet the need among children and families. Oregon’s childcare subsidy program has a long waiting list. And only 55 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds eligible for Head Start in Oregon can be served. A full 32,000 children from low-income families in Oregon don’t have access to high quality preschool.

    Increasing spending in these areas is a wise and cost effective investment. Children having access to quality preschool alone returns $8.60 in societal benefits for every $1 spent. We hope Congress makes early learning a priority for new investments, as the 2015 Oregon Legislature just did.

    Other things I discussed with my early learning colleagues last week:

    ESEA Reauthorization:Last week, the U.S. Senate was busy debating proposed legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (formerly known as No Child Left Behind). The Senate last Thursday approved reauthorization by an overwhelming 81-17 vote. While the law largely focuses on K-12 education, revisions in the latest drafts do add explicit language that emphasizes some federal education funds can be used for early learning programs. The proposal also includes a new competitive grant preschool program, but it is unclear whether it will be funded. We were disappointed the Senate did not adopt Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey’s amendment that would have provided $30 billion in federal funding for universal preschool for 4-year-olds across the nation.

    Child Care: Congress recently reauthorized the Child Care Development Block Grant program, which provides funding to states to help working parents afford childcare. A number of changes were made to the law to improve the safety and quality of childcare funded by the grants. In Oregon, where a large percentage of children are cared for by unlicensed family, friend, and neighbor providers, implementing the newly required home visits and background checks on all of these providers is important but also expensive. We were glad to support the Oregon Legislature’s recent $47 million increased investment in childcare to cover these costs, serve more families, and support improved childcare quality. We hope Congress similarly expands funding to meet these increased requirements.

    Home Visiting:This Spring, Congress approved a two-year extension of funding for the Maternal Infant Early Childhood Home Visiting program. Oregon has won three rounds of funding from the program, which has allowed hundreds of new at-risk parents across Oregon to receive the real-time support they requested from experts in child development – a strategy that has been proven to increase school readiness and reduce child abuse. This was an opportunity to thank these lawmakers for their support.

    The Oregon legislative session that just wrapped up was very successful for Oregon’s young children. But my visit to Washington underscored how important federal programs are as well to improving early learning throughout the nation. It’s that combination of good work – at the local, state and federal level – that can improve early learning and give all young children a better chance of success.

    Read more

  • Oregon's Preschool Bill in the News

    koin6-7.15Oregon's expansion of access to high-quality preschool has received some great news coverage this week.

    KOIN 6 news joined us at Earl Boyles to discuss the expansion and shoot some video. Take a look at their report here.

    The expansion was also featured on Education Week's Early Years blog -- read the story here.

    Read more

  • Victory for Oregon’s young children

    Oregon’s young children won a major victory this week.

    On Monday, the last day of the 2015 Oregon legislative session, the Oregon Senate approved a bill that will make high-quality preschool available for more children from low-income families in the state. That vote marked the final approval of the Children's Institute's entire legislative agenda for improving early learning in Oregon.

    The Legislature's approval of the preschool legislation will give 1,350 more Oregon 3- and 4-year-olds the opportunity to access the quality preschools that can get them ready for kindergarten and for long-lasting school success.

    The new legislation, supported by the Children’s Institute and a broad coalition of more than 30 Oregon organizations, will provide a blueprint that allows for a mix of providers – school districts, Head Start programs and community preschools – to receive state funding to offer high-quality preschool programs.

    Both houses of the Legislature this session also approved two other important initiatives that the Children’s Institute and a coalition of groups supported: an expansion of home visiting services for at-risk families and expansion of the Kindergarten Partnership and Innovation Fund, which provides grants that connect early learning to the early grades.

    All of the legislation now moves on to Gov. Kate Brown – a staunch supporter for early learning investments in Oregon – for her signature.

    "We know investments early in children's lives continue to pay dividends for them and their families as they grow,” Brown said. “Oregon's future is brighter when all Oregon families thrive."

    The Legislature also made other very important investments in early learning during this session. New investments include:

    • additional dollars to support the roll-out of full-day kindergarten across the state
    • $45 million to expand access to subsidized child care and support improved quality
    • $4 million for the state’s early intervention/early childhood special education program
    • $10.3 million above the 2013-2015 appropriation for the state’s Early Learning Hubs
    • $1.7 million for a school attendance pilot project to work with schools serving large populations of Native American students in order to decrease chronic absenteeism
    • $3 million to develop an education plan for children of color who are economically disadvantaged and experience a significant achievement gap
    • $1.2 million for Relief Nurseries in the state

    Swati Adarkar, President and CEO of the Children’s Institute, credited the success of the early learning initiatives in large part to the commitment and passion of many Oregon state leaders, including Gov. Brown, Rep. Betty Komp, the primary sponsor of the preschool bill, Sen. Rod Monroe, a stalwart supporter of early learning, Rep. Tina Kotek, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Sen. Richard Devlin and Rep. Peter Buckley, co-chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Ways and Means Committee.

    She also credited the success to the coalition of business, children and family advocacy groups that were steadfast in their commitment to improving the lives of Oregon's youngest learners.

    "Oregon really took a step forward this legislative session to expand early learning opportunities for children in our state," she said. "That step forward happened because of the vision of our state leaders, and the passionate advocacy of a large group of Oregonians who know that investing in early learning changes lives and futures."

     

    VIEWS ON PASSAGE
    OF PRESCHOOL BILL

    HB 3380 makes high-quality preschool available to more Oregon children. Below are some reactions.

     
      GovBrown2  

    OREGON GOV. KATE BROWN

    "Supporting the stability and health of families and providing access to high quality, affordable child care and preschool are critical to closing the opportunity gap and fostering educational success. We know investments early in children's lives continue to pay dividends for them and their families as they grow. Oregon's future is brighter when all Oregon families thrive."

     

    Irwin Megan  

    MEGAN IRWIN
    Acting Early Learning System Director, Oregon Dept. of Education

    "All of Oregon's young children and families deserve high-quality, affordable and accessible early learning experiences. The passage of HB 3380 is an important step toward this ideal. This bill acknowledges that high-quality early learning can happen in a wide variety of settings and will allow communities to leverage their existing early learning assets. We are grateful that legislators saw the value in investing in our youngest Oregonians and giving us the opportunity to demonstrate the significant impact this investment will have on children, families, communities and our state."

     

    Komp headshot-266x266  

    REP. BETTY KOMP
    Oregon District 22

    "House Bill 3380 sets common, high standards for preschool programs. It provides resources to support preschool children and their families for years of successful learning. Passing legislation that provides a great foundation for learning is always my goal as a former teacher and administrator."

     

    SenRodMonroe  

    SEN. ROD MONROE
    Oregon District 24

    "My goal is that all eligible 3-to-5-year-olds be provided with a quality preschool program. I want every Oregon child to be fully prepared for kindergarten by age 5 and reading at grade level by the 3rd grade. HB 3380 will help achieve this goal."

     

     DonGrotting B072  

    DON GROTTING
    Superintendent, David Douglas School District

    "Passage of the high-quality preschool bill is a start for Oregon to begin providing all of our children the social, emotional, academic, and healthy traits needed to become successful. This is our chance to truly close the opportunity gap."

     

    DSchnitker  

    DONNA SCHNITKER
    President, Oregon Head Start Association

    "The passage of HB 3380 means that Head Start will be able to serve more children and reduce the wait lists of many programs. The collaboration between the Children's Institute, the Early Learning Division and the Oregon Head Start Association has resulted in a successful, unified effort to increase access to quality preschool all across the state."

     

    Megan-Gorecki-countytestimony-6.10.15   

    MEGAN GORECKI
    Earl Boyles Elementary School parent and preschool advocate

    "My three-year-old daughter, Madalynn, has already learned so much in the six months that she's been in preschool. She's grown tremendously. I think it's wonderful that 1,500 more kids are going to be learning and be ready for kindergarten and have that opportunity to be ready for school. That wouldn't have been the case if this bill hadn't passed."

     

    Swati 2013-web   

    SWATI ADARKAR
    President & CEO, Children's Institute

    "High-quality preschool has risen to the national agenda as a proven and effective strategy to address the nation's unacceptable achievement and opportunity gaps. Oregon took an important step forward this legislative session by creating a blueprint for high-quality preschool to reach more low-income children in diverse settings. We look forward to working with our partners to make sure the implementation delivers on the promise."

     

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  • Another victory – and now one more yard to the goal line – for Oregon’s children

    IMG 0853The Oregon Legislature’s Joint Ways and Means Committee yesterday approved making a vital investment in high quality preschool for Oregon children. It also approved critical investments in a range of other birth-through-third-grade initiatives to improve early learning in Oregon.

    The committee’s 21-2 vote was a vote of support for the Children’s Institute’s entire legislative agenda, including not only the expanded preschool program but also expansion of home visiting services for at-risk families and expansion of a fund that provides grants that connect children’s early years to the early grades.

    The committee's vote moves the legislation to the full Oregon House and Senate, which will consider it in the next couple of days. And now, we need your help. (More on that below.)

    A broad coalition of groups joined the Children’s Institute in supporting a $30 million investment during the 2015-2017 biennium to provide a blueprint to make quality preschool available to more children from low-income families. The bill, HB 3380, would allow for a mix of organizations – school districts, Head Starts programs and community preschools – to receive state funding to provide the high quality preschool programs.

    The committee approved investing $27 million in preschool, with one-third going to reduce current Head Start waiting lists and two-thirds going to provide high quality preschool to more children through a mix of providers. The committee also approved investing $9.5 million to expand voluntary home visiting services to families, to ensure more at-risk infants and toddlers receive support during their critical, early years of brain development. And the committee supported expansion of the Kindergarten Partnership and Innovation Fund, which provides grants focused on key early learning strategies like family engagement and kindergarten transition programs.

    The committee’s vote yesterday approved the entire Oregon Department of Education’s budget – not including general funding for the state’s K-12 schools.

    The budget also included:

    • $4 million for the state’s early intervention/early childhood special education program.
    • $10.3 million increase for the state’s Early Learning Hubs, bringing their total for the biennium to $15 million.
    • $1.7 million for a school attendance pilot project to work with schools serving large populations of Native American students in order to decrease chronic absenteeism.
    • $500,000 increase for Relief Nurseries in the state.

    The committee’s approval now means the full Oregon House and Senate will consider these important early learning investments, likely in the next few days. Now is the time to make sure your voice is heard. We are asking early learning supporters throughout the state to contact their legislators and advocate for these vital and wise investments in early learning in Oregon.

    We’re almost across the goal line. You can help us carry the ball that one extra yard – for the benefit of Oregon’s children.

    Read more

  • Another step forward for better early learning for Oregon

    rfs stacked one line outlinedThe Children’s Institute’s entire legislative agenda took a big step forward today when an important Oregon legislative subcommittee approved funding for a blueprint to expand high-quality preschool in Oregon, for expansion of home visiting services for at-risk families, and for expansion of a fund that provides grants that connect children’s early years to the early grades.

    After yesterday’s action by the Legislature’s Ways and Means Education Subcommittee, the increased investments in all three programs now move on to the full Ways and Means Committee for approval.

    A broad coalition of groups has joined the Children’s Institute in supporting a $30 million investment to provide a blueprint to make quality preschool available to more children from low-income families. The bill, HB 3380, would allow for a mix of organizations – school districts, Head Starts programs and community preschools -- to receive state funding to provide the high quality preschool programs. About three-quarters of children from low-income Oregon families currently don’t have access to preschool. (Children First for Oregon, one of more than 30 groups supporting the preschool bill, recently wrote about it on its blog.)

    The Ways and Mean Education Subcommittee today approved investing $27 million in the program. There may still be an opportunity for the Legislature to provide the full $30 million to fund the program for the 2015-2017 biennium.

    The subcommittee also approved investing $9.5 million to expand home visiting services to families who volunteer for them, to ensure more at-risk infants and toddlers receive services during their critical, early years of brain development. And the subcommittee supported expansion of the Kindergarten Partnership and Innovation Fund, which provides grants focused on key early learning strategies like family engagement workshops and kindergarten transition programs.

    The Legislature’s full Ways and Means Committee is expected to consider the early learning initiatives as early as this week. If that committee approves, the Oregon House and Senate will vote on the initiatives. The legislative session is expected to end the second week of July.

     

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  • Governor Brown, parents testify in support of preschool bill

    leg-preschool-hearing.6.15Gov. Kate Brown told an Oregon legislative subcommittee today that Oregon must do more to support early learning programs in Oregon and should do everything it can to support and fund a preschool bill that the Children’s Institute and dozens of other Oregon organizations are advocating for.

    “Supporting the stability and health of families, beginning prenatally and at birth, and providing access to high quality affordable child care and preschool is critical to ensure that all Oregon children thrive,” Brown told the Legislature’s Joint Ways and Means Education Subcommittee. “Unfortunately, these critical services and learning opportunities still only reach a fraction of the children and families who need them.”

    Brown told the committee that’s why she is supporting HB 3380, which would provide a blueprint to make quality pre-school available to more children from low-income families.

    “I think we have an opportunity this legislative session to build on our investments in early learning in Oregon and create a very strong foundation for Oregon children and their families,” she told the committee. “Investing early will have a positive ripple effect on our education system, our social services sector, our economy and Oregon’s future. Moreover, it’s the right thing to do.”

    The bill would allow for a mix of organizations – school districts, Head Starts programs and community preschools -- to receive state funding to provide the high quality preschool programs. About three-quarters of children from low-income Oregon families currently don’t have access to preschool.

    The Children’s Institute, the Oregon Head Start Association and a number of other partners have built a strong coalition of supporters for the proposal. A companion bill, which the Ways and Means Education Subcommittee is also considering, would provide $30 million to fund the program for the 2015-2017 biennium.

    Two parents from the David Douglas School District’s Earl Boyles Elementary in southeast Portland also testified in support of the bill. Earl Boyles offers public preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds in its catchment area.

    Each talked about how their children’s experiences in preschool made them better learners and ready to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

    Nidia Perez said her four-year-old son, David, learned colors and letters very early because of his participation in the Earl Boyles preschool.

    Krista Dennis said her son, John, who has just finished first grade at Earl Boyles, was diagnosed on the autism spectrum and was mostly non-verbal when he entered private preschool at 3 years old. He attended one year of that preschool and a second year of preschool at Earl Boyles. “Going to the Earl Boyles program, he did amazing,” she said. “He learned all his letters, all his shapes, and he learned to cope so well it just sparked his learning."

    By kindergarten, he had qualified for the school’s talented and gifted program, Dennis said.

    Representatives from the Oregon Head Start Association also testified in support of the policy bill and the funding bill. If approved, the bills would provide money for Head Start programs to serve more eligible families. Head Start programs have long waiting lists of families who are eligible but can’t access services because the of the program’s limited funding.

    The Oregon House of Representatives’ Education Committee had unanimously approved HB 3380 in April, moving it on to the Ways and Means Committee.

    The Ways and Means Education Subcommittee is expected to vote on the bill in the next two weeks; the full Ways and Means committee will consider it after that.

    We’ll keep you updated, of course, as the bill makes its way through the Legislature.  You can read about our entire legislative agenda .

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  • Lessons learned from New York City on beating chronic absence

    low 2014-05-29 041The Children's Institute was excited to meet last week, along with some of our partners, with leaders from the Oregon Department of Education to encourage them to release more detailed data on students who are chronically absent – those who miss 10 percent or more of school days. We're working with a wide range of policymakers, educators, students, families and others who are trying to tackle the problem, and we believe that having an accurate understanding of the problem will help address it.

    That's why we appreciate the Department of Education leaders' commitment at the meeting to annually release detailed information on chronic absence – by school district, school and by some student subgroups – starting next year.

    In the meantime, I was reminded last week that Oregon is not the only place in the country working to address chronic absence. Other states and organizations are working alongside us to find creative solutions, and much can be learned from some of these other extraordinary efforts.

    I learned about these initiatives last week in Washington, D.C., where I was privileged to represent the Children's Institute as part of a work group on chronic absence in the United States convened by the National Collaborative on Education and Health. The meeting brought together some of the nation's best thinkers on the subject to lay the groundwork for solutions around chronic absence. Nationwide, between 5 million and 7.5 million children are chronically absent from school every year.

    In particular, one New York City effort to address the problem has seen some especially promising results. In the summer of 2010, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched his city's Interagency Task Force on Truancy, Chronic Absenteeism and School Engagement. It was the first effort of its kind in New York, and it pulled together more than a dozen city agencies and private partners to help tackle the problem of chronic absence. At the time, one out of five New York City students were chronically absent – over 200,000 students in the metropolitan area.

    The program was multi-faceted, and I recognized in it the same basic components that I've seen at work in schools and districts across Oregon that are beating the odds. Working with The Children's Aid Society, a New York charity, the governor's office pulled in community partners, including the housing authority, the health department, homeless services, the New York City Police Department, and youth development agencies. They implemented school-wide strategies, weekly attendance meetings, connected families to community resources and, critically, set up a program called Success Mentors.

    Success Mentors are caring adults who were matched with students who have a history of chronic absence. These adults can be teachers, guidance counselors, school aides, custodians or security guards. Their credentials are less important than their emotional and physical capacity to connect with these kids and encourage them to get to school.

    The bottom line: the schools working with this task force significantly reduced chronic absence. All three cohorts of task force schools consistently outperformed comparison schools, and positive impacts were consistent across elementary, middle, and high schools. Most importantly, impacts were most significant for students living in high poverty and temporary housing – the population that we know is most likely to be chronically absent and that stands to gain the most from being in school.

    I was impressed with this effort for many reasons, but chief among them was that the people working on the initiative were able to focus on practical solutions that were achievable. Chronic absence is a complex problem with many contributing causes. It will not be solved in a day. But if the architects of education and health policy can focus on scaling up solutions like these, we'll be on our way to keeping more kids in school from a very early age and setting them on a path to success – from New York City to rural Oregon.

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  • National report praises parts of Oregon’s preschool program, also shows not enough children have access

    YB14 bannerThe release this week of the annual “State of Preschool” report by the National Institute of Early Education Research underlines the commitment the state of Oregon has made to invest in high-quality preschool. But it also shows the state must do much more to ensure more Oregon children – especially those from low-income families – have access to publicly funded preschool.

    The “State of Preschool” report examined preschool programs throughout the nation during the 2013-2014 school year. The report showed that quality standards for Oregon’s preschool program had improved. The state program now meets 9 of 10 benchmarks for quality that the organization uses – the most ever for the state. But the report also showed the state ranked near the bottom – 31st out of 41 states that could be measured – for access to publicly funded preschool by 4-year-olds.

    The report received coverage from media throughout the nation and state. The Oregonian did a piece. Portland’s KOIN-TV interviewed the Children’s Institute’s Dana Hepper for its coverage; Dana stressed that more children from low-income Oregon families should have access to high-quality preschool.

    The “State of Preschool” report underlines why the Children’s Institute is supporting state legislation that would help make that happen. A proposal being considered by the 2015 Oregon Legislature would invest $30 million to set up a system where various types of preschool providers – Head Start programs, school districts and community providers – could offer high-quality preschool to more children from low-income families.

    The Children’s Institute and 34 other organizations that advocate for children and families support the proposed legislation.

    “Research shows that high-quality preschool works. It helps to get children ready for kindergarten and on a path to succeed in school,” said Swati Adarkar, the Children’s Institute’s president and CEO. “Yet we know that about three-quarters of children from low-income Oregon families don’t have access to the preschool that could change their lives. The state must do more.”In a news release issued with the preschool report, NIEER Director Steven Barnett said Oregon “made gains in quality and dedicating resources, though it was it was unfortunate the needle didn’t budge for expanding enrollment.” Oregon has made no real progress in expanding access to publicly funded preschool since 2007. Barnett said his organization was hopeful that the proposal before the Oregon Legislature would “provide quality early learning opportunities for many more of the state’s children.”More information on the report’s assessment of Oregon’s preschool program is here.

    Details on the Oregon preschool legislation are here.

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  • Children’s Institute and community partners call for annual data release on chronic absence

    firstgrade2The Children's Institute and a group of allies and partners have formally asked leaders of the Oregon Department of Education to annually release data that measures chronic absence rates in K-12 schools across the state. Such a release would provide critical information to the policymakers and educators and communities working to address chronic absence in Oregon.

    Oregon has one of the highest rates of chronic absence – defined as students who miss 10 percent or more of school days – in the nation. In the Children's Institute's 2014 report on the subject, Showing Up, Staying In, the organization calls for swift and meaningful action from the state to combat chronic absence in all grades, but in particular the early grades starting with kindergarten. Research has shown that children who are chronically absent in kindergarten are far less likely to go on to academic success and high school graduation.

    While the state already provides some information about chronic absence, the Children's Institute and others are recommending that the state release data that would provide a greater level of detail by measuring chronic absence at every school district, school, and grade level and then disaggregating that data at the school district level. These metrics would include assessing chronic absence by race, family income and other indicators of economic hardship.

    The Children's Institute and several other statewide advocacy groups sent a letter to ODE leaders late last week asking for the annual release of the chronic absence data. The Chalkboard Project, Stand for Children, the Oregon Business Association and Upstream Public Health also signed the letter.

    Chronic absence has been twice comprehensively measured in Oregon. The first analysis, published in 2012, was a joint effort between the economic consulting firm ECONorthwest, the national attendance advocacy group Attendance Works, and Oregon nonprofits The Chalkboard Project and the Children's Institute. The Oregonian conducted a second measurement through a February 1014 investigative report. The reports found Oregon to have a chronic absence rate between 18 and 23 percent.

    "The Children's Institute and our partners believe that the burden of measuring chronic absence should not fall to the non-profits and journalists who are sounding the alarm on this urgent problem," said Swati Adarkar, CEO and President of the Children's Institute. "We believe that the state of Oregon needs to create actionable and detailed measurements describing the problem as a first step towards addressing it."

    Read the Children's Institute's request to the Oregon Department of Education.

    Update: Representatives from the Oregon Department of Education said Oregon Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Rob Saxton is eager to meet to talk about the recommendations from the Children's Institute and the other groups. A meeting is being arranged.

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  • Early Learning Unmet Need in America

    unmetneed blogIn Oregon, more than three-quarters of four-year-olds do not have access to publicly-funded preschool. For Latino children, the unmet need is especially great.

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  • Convincing legislators of what we know: early learning is a smart investment

    rfs stacked one line outlinedWe are now three weeks into the Oregon legislative session, and our commitment to getting more kids served in high-quality early learning programs while continuing to strengthen the early learning system could not be stronger. Almost three-quarters of children from low-income Oregon families – or more than 30,000 – lack access to high-quality preschool. Only a tiny fraction of eligible families have access to the coaching and support an experienced home visitor can provide to parents of young children. And our early learning system is just at the early stages of breaking through historic silos to serve children and families in a coordinated system. Our work is just beginning.

    While the resignation of Gov. John Kitzhaber meant the loss of a vocal champion for investments in our youngest children, the swearing in of Gov. Kate Brown provides an opportunity to work with a new leader with a long history of supporting education and meeting the needs of children and families. We are heartened that Gov. Brown has already voiced her support for early childhood investments. When asked about improving Oregon’s high school graduation rate during her first press conference on Friday, Governor Brown made clear that advancing early childhood policy was part of the solution.

    The evidence about what it takes to ensure children have the skills and experiences they need to thrive in kindergarten and carry that success through third grade remains clear. And that evidence continues to drive our policy and budget priorities. During this legislative session, we’re encouraging state leaders to:

    • invest in high-quality preschool programs to serve an additional 1,500 Oregon children each year. We’re advocating for an additional $30 million investment over two years.
    • pass legislation that sets up a system for a mix of preschools (including Head Start, neighborhood preschools and child care, and K-12 schools) that can meet unique child and family needs — as long as they meet high-quality standards.
    • invest in effective voluntary home visiting services that reach more eligible children. The evidence-based services give parents with infants and toddlers support and coaching to meet their children’s needs. We’re advocating for an additional $10 million over two years to expand Oregon’s home visiting program, called Healthy Families Oregon.
    • build bridges between early childhood services and elementary schools to smooth transitions for children and families. We’re advocating for an additional $5 million investment over two years in the state’s Kindergarten Partnership & Innovation Fund.

    Helping to make all of this happen won’t be easy. There are pressures on the state budget from a range of other public services, of course.

    But the public – and state leaders – are beginning to understand the importance of early childhood education for children’s long term success. They are beginning to understand that investments in early learning return more long-term cost savings than almost any other public investment.

    Personal stories will help them feel the need in their hearts, beyond numbers and return-on-investment calculations. Stay tuned this session as we keep you up to date on key opportunities to lift your voice on behalf of the youngest Oregonians, and the potential we can unleash by investing in them.

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  • Moving forward for Oregon's children

    Swati 2013-webWhen Governor Kitzhaber resigned last week, Oregon lost the extraordinary vision and leadership of one of the foremost early childhood advocates in the nation. His understanding of early childhood education and clear and courageous diagnosis of and prescription for how to chart a new course for Oregon through health and education reforms was unmatched by any other governor I have seen in my time as an advocate for children.

    The circumstances surrounding this decision have saddened us all.

    But even as we are deeply disappointed, the Children's Institute remains steadfast in our mission to ensure more children in Oregon receive high-quality early learning. We will continue to be unwavering in our advocacy for needed investments now while reminding everyone of the cost of inaction.

    The needs of Oregon’s children haven’t changed. The Children’s Institute will continue to advocate during the 2015 legislative session for the following priority investments focused on kindergarten readiness and third grade success.

    High-quality preschool

    We advocate a $30 million investment in high-quality preschool during the 2015-2017 biennium to reach more of Oregon’s vulnerable kids – in particular low-income kids who stand to gain the most. The investment would align with our existing Oregon Head Start Pre-K program and bring together a range of eligible providers (child care, schools, Head Start) to create a cohesive state preschool approach to reach a wider range of kids.

    Invest in evidence-based home visiting

    We advocate a $10 million expansion of home visiting services to ensure more at-risk infants and toddlers and their families receive services during the critical brain development years that begin prenatally. High-quality home visiting services improve health outcomes and support strong parent-child relationships, and increase school readiness.

    Kindergarten Partnership and Innovation Fund

    We advocate a $9 million expansion of the Kindergarten Partnership and Innovation Fund, which provides grants to connect the early years to the early grades. Sixteen communities are currently using their grants to conduct family engagement workshops, summer literacy programs and kindergarten transition programs. A modest additional investment means this good work can continue and expand.

    The Children’s Institute will continue to work with the Oregon Legislature, while forging a strong relationship with the incoming governor, current Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown, who takes office tomorrow. She has a strong record as a children's advocate in her more than two decades in public office in Oregon.

    Our children can’t wait. Making these modest investments will ensure that more of Oregon’s children will be on track in their development, prepared for kindergarten and successful learners by third grade.

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  • 3 maps that show where Oregon is on policy goals

    3rd-grd-reading-mapThe Statesman Journal has published some of the data-based snapshots of Oregon's progress towards third-grade reading achievement, kindergarten readiness, and minimizing income inequality. From the article: "The Oregon Legislature doesn't officially convene for two weeks, but already the policy questions lawmakers plan to tackle are clear. Early childhood education, transportation, income inequality and, likely, tax reform will dominate the conversation for the next several months."

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  • What the Latest Kindergarten Assessment Data Shows

    girl-in-pink-sweaterResults from the second statewide administration of the Kindergarten Assessment (KA) were released Wednesday. The findings were consistent with the 2013-2014 data, indicating that this year’s entering kindergartners are demonstrating approximately the same skill level as last year’s kindergartners on identical tasks.

    Similar trends were found for children from districts with the highest concentrations of poverty generally scoring lower on the assessment when compared to children from higher-income districts, pointing to continued disparities in access to early learning opportunities across the state. These trends are also consistent with other national studies measuring these same domains: early literacy, math, and social emotional skills.

    With the adoption of the KA in 2013, Oregon joined a growing number of states engaged in kindergarten assessment efforts. Children’s Institute played a large role in ensuring that Oregon moved with the nation to adopt a consistent tool to be used statewide to identify entering kindergartners’ strengths and needs to help inform schools, districts, and policymakers on where to target instruction, professional development, and allocate resources toward areas in greatest need. Prior to the KA, the state did not have a uniform way to capture entering kindergartners’ skills in specific domains of development that are predictive of later academic success.

    The KA is not without its challenges. The early learning assessment field is evolving rapidly, the movement toward state KAs is relatively new, and our knowledge of best practices in assessment around English-language learners and diverse learners is still under development. The state is fully aware of these challenges. More importantly, Oregon is committed to a continual process of improvement of the KA.

    This month the state convened a group of key stakeholders that included nationally recognized early learning assessment experts, researchers, school and district administrators, directors and providers of early learning programs, and kindergarten teachers to advise the state on adjustments to the KA to ensure that it is developmentally appropriate, culturally and linguistically sensitive, assessing the right set of skills, applying an equity lens, and meeting the goals of the assessment. (See sidebar.)

    How the KA can be used

    The Kindergarten Assessment can be used alongside other data to:

    • Provide local and statewide information to state-level policymakers, communities, schools, and families about the literacy, math, self-regulation, and interpersonal skills of entering kindergarteners.
    • Provide essential information on Oregon's entering kindergartners' strengths and to identify gaps in key developmental and academic skills to inform early learning and K-12 systems decisions and to target instruction, professional development, resources, and supports for the areas of greatest need.
    • Provide a consistent tool to be used across the state to identify opportunity gaps in order to inform schools, districts, early learning hubs, communities, and policymakers about how to allocate resources to the communities with the greatest need and to measure progress in the years to come.

    The data can be used comparatively for each of these goals. The state can compare communities and populations to understand where gaps exist and where resources should be targeted. Schools and districts can use the data to compare to the state averages or similar districts and begin conversation with their early learning community about targeting communities for additional investment and alignment.

    I am honored to be a member of the Kindergarten Assessment Committee that is working to refine and improve the KA. The collective knowledge, skills, and expertise of this group are impressive. Further, the committee is being very well facilitated and staffed by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE).

    At a recent meeting, the committee grappled with some of the challenges associated with the assessment, namely floor effects on two subtests within the KA: letter names and letter sounds. Based on the statewide data, these two items do not appear to be sensitive enough or appropriate for expected skills of entering kindergartners. Typically, we would expect to see a normal bell curve distribution. In the case of these two items, the data was skewed to the far left, meaning that the vast majority of children could not name more than a few letters or identify letter sounds. The picture was even bleaker for the Spanish version of letter names; more than 55% of Spanish-speaking children could not name one letter. These items leave parents, educators, and policymakers with little information about what children are actually capable of doing. This is critical to ensuring that the KA is meaningful so that we can optimally support children’s learning.

    The committee produced recommendations to address these floor affects and improve the administration of the assessment:

    • ODE plans an operational field test of adjustments to the early literacy segment in fall 2015to ensure the assessment better matches the skills of incoming kindergartners.
    • ODE plans to field test new language/vocabulary items this fall in order to get a better understanding of a broader range of language and literacy skills of entering kindergartners that are predictive of later school success.
    • ODE will incorporate the KA Committee’s recommended improvements to the Reporting Overview, the instructions to the test administrators, and the student directions to ensure that the instructions are simpler and more understandable for both teachers and entering kindergartners.
    • ODE is incorporating the higher-level feedback from the committee around the intended goals of the KA, the range of student abilities of entering kindergartners into their planning for the field tests, and communications to the public about the KA.

    The committee will meet again in early February to finalize recommendations. More information will be coming in the spring once ODE has time to process the recommendations and adopt them.

    One member of the committee who had recently moved to Oregon from another state reflected that he was part of other KA discussions that lasted for years and never came to fruition. He said the state should be gratified of the progress it has made in taking action toward adopting and implementing a KA that goes beyond measuring academic skills and includes measures of social-emotional skills as well. “Oregon should be proud of where we have gotten to at this point,” he added. We ended the meeting on that positive note.

    I look forward to continued engagement in the thoughtful, iterative approach to improving the Kindergarten Assessment to ensure we can meet the educational needs of our youngest learners.

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  • Policy Brief: Advancing Birth-to-Third-Grade Success

    Campaign policy brief 2015 imageThe Ready for School Leaders’ Panel and the Children’s Institute are poised to make a significant impact for Oregon’s youngest and most vulnerable children in the 2015 Legislative Session. Advancing Birth-to-Third-Grade Success, our 2015 policy brief, makes the case for the critical investments and policy changes in 2015 that are strongly supported by research and support on-track health and development, kindergarten readiness, and third-grade success.

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  • Advancing Birth-to-Third-Grade Success

    Campaign policy brief 2015 imageThe Ready for School Leaders’ Panel and the Children’s Institute are poised to make a significant impact for Oregon’s youngest and most vulnerable children in the 2015 Legislative Session. Advancing Birth-to-Third-Grade Success, our 2015 policy brief, makes the case for the critical investments and policy changes in 2015 that are strongly supported by research and support on-track health and development, kindergarten readiness, and third-grade success.

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