Despite Legislative Setbacks, Oregon Advocates Build Case for Early Childhood Funding

Oregon advocates have a clear message for state policymakers: early childhood programs are critical to keeping children healthy, safe, and ready to learn.

Unfortunately, in 2017, the Oregon legislature severely cut funding for early childhood programs for kids and families, including Employment Related Day Care, Early Learning Hubs, and the Kindergarten Partnership and Innovation Fund.

Children’s Institute (CI) continues to strongly advocate for these programs and views them as crucial components of an emerging early care and education system for young children, prenatal to eight years-old. Half of all children born in Oregon rely on Medicaid for their healthcare coverage and nearly 129,000 kids ages birth to 5 live at 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. Currently, 75 percent of vulnerable children in Oregon are either not being served or not receiving adequate early childhood services. Without significant increased investment by the state, Oregon will continue to underserve children and families and fail to prepare kids for kindergarten and success in the early grades.

To amplify the message, CI organized an Early Childhood Advocates Day at the state capitol in February 2018 to underscore the importance of early childhood programs. 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 came to advocate 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.

Despite these efforts, the Oregon legislature failed to restore the significant cuts to early childhood programs and services from 2017. HB 4067, which extends the developmental delay (DD) eligibility category from Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) to third grade, did pass. The legislation will allow for continuity between EI/ECSE and K-12 for children who are served under the DD category in preschool and still need special education services in kindergarten.

The legislature opted to make two new investments designed to support better outcomes for children:  

Although advocates applauded those critical investments, they urged state leadership to view childcare safety and child welfare staffing as components of a broader, comprehensive early childhood strategy that ensures Oregon’s young children are safe, healthy, and prepared to learn. By investing in expanding access to proven early childhood programs and services, Oregon has the potential to close opportunity and achievement gaps.

Children’s Institute and its advocacy partners will continue to fight for more state investments in the programs and services—and ultimately a statewide early care and education system—that support early childhood development, provides opportunities for high-quality early education, and help lay the foundation for success in school and in life.

- Rafael Otto, Senior Communications Associate
Children’s Institute

(June 20, 2018)