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Take Your Legislator to Preschool Days

MHCC 1 adjustedChildren’s Institute invited state legislators to visit preschools in their districts to see the benefits of early learning first-hand. Legislators visited a wide variety of preschool classrooms where three and four year-olds were learning the pre-academic and social-emotional skills essential for kindergarten readiness.

Despite several bouts of severe weather, six Oregon State Representatives attended preschool tours in December 2016 and January 2017: Cliff Bentz (Ontario and Vale), Jodi Hack (Salem), Cedric Hayden (Yoncalla), Alissa Keny-Guyer (Portland), Sheri Malstrom (Beaverton), and Barbara Smith Warner (Portland).

Preschool Visit Highlights

For some families, preschool’s impact extends beyond the child. While visiting a Somali language-focused preschool classroom operated by Mount Hood Community College and CAIRO Academy in East Portland, a mother who had never attended school asked Representative Barbara Smith Warner where she could learn to read. “I see how much my son has learned and I want to learn, too,” she said.

At the preschool visit at Waverly Elementary School in Albany, principal Anne Griffith operates two half-day preschool classrooms for 30 kids and provides them with free transportation. In a school where 25 percent of students are English Language Learners, 30 percent have an Individualized Education Program (IEP), and 85 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch, there is a tremendous need for high-quality early education.“In an ideal world, I would love to offer services on the birth-to-five continuum,” she said. Preschool is already making a difference in the lives of children in the community. “People who see him now can’t believe he’s the same kid,” a mother said of her young son who attends preschool at Waverly.

Kelly Poe, Eastern Oregon Community Based Service Hub Director, works to coordinate early education and early childhood development services in the far eastern part of the state. Her Early Learning Hub stretches the entire state — from the Washington border to the north, the California border to the south, and the Idaho border to the east. Poe, Oregon State Representative Cliff Bentz, and Children’s Institute staff took a 30-mile drive in snowy, 12-degree weather to visit preschool classrooms in Ontario and Vale. “We are somewhat isolated out here and at the state level it may be hard to understand the complexity of our needs,” she said on the trip. “It is a challenge coordinating services, but we get it done. Our kids need quality preschool and there are providers doing great work.”

Poe also credited Bentz with his unwavering support for early education. “We take care of each other. Representative Bentz has helped us solve problems and navigate the system.” She stressed the need for more educational opportunities in Eastern Oregon to train early childhood educators and to provide professional development for current providers. Travel to Portland or Salem for trainings or meetings can cost up to $1,000 (airline flight, rental car, hotel) and take over a day in travel time each direction.

Increasing Access to Preschool

Only 25 percent of low-income children in Oregon have access to preschool. Oregon Head Start Pre-Kindergarten and Preschool Promise serve kids in rural and urban Oregon who would not otherwise have access to high-quality early learning. 

The state is facing a $1.8 billion dollar budget deficit, but Oregon must preserve and protect the early childhood programs and services that produce long-term positive outcomes for children. Children's Institute will continue to advocate for the programs and services necessary to prepare the greatest number of children for kindergarten readiness. 

 To learn more about Children's Institute's legislative priorities for the 2017-2019 legislative session, click here. Stay tuned for more highlights and notes from preschool visits throughout the year.

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