We 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.