By Don MacGillivray

Those with disproportionate risk suffer from the disparities of opportunity. This is especially true of young children expecting to enter Oregon’s educational system.

The first years in a child’s life provides the necessary foundation for their future. Learning is a continuum that starts at the moment of birth.

With the proper resources and assessment tools, families with young children can be better prepared for kindergarten.

Ninety percent of brain development takes place by the age of four. Relationships are a very important aspect of development. Children need to experience a wide variety of positive relationships with relatives and friends.

In 2013, Oregon graduation rates were the worst in the nation but with early childhood intervention, high school graduation rates could exponentially increase.

Long term benefits include decreased public expenditures in: education, social services, health services, and the justice system, as well as increased tax revenue. The well documented return on investment is approximately eight dollars returned for every dollar spent.

Today, 57% of Black, and 61% of Latino students drop out of high school, as do 60% of economically-disadvantaged students. Children in very low income families and those of ethnic minorities are statistically the least likely to be ready for learning.

Of the 45,000 children born in Oregon each year about 40 percent are considered to be at risk.

In Multnomah County 64,000 kids live in poverty and only 7,000 are identified. Two-thirds of them are children of color and 29 percent of Oregon’s future students live with a single parent.

The results from Oregon’s first statewide Kindergarten Assessment in 2013 showed that: 33 percent of these children could only name five letters of the alphabet and 37 percent could not identify a single letter sound.

To help children grow into successful, productive adults, their parents need well paying jobs, affordable housing, and the ability to invest in their children’s future. Economic equity and educational equity go hand in hand.

Before 2012, funding to improve a child’s well being was scattered across many uncoordinated Oregon state agencies. The development of the first Oregon Comprehensive Children’s Budget in 2012 (House Bill 4165) identified funding sources directed toward young children.

This was the first time these agencies and their budgets were viewed together as a whole. This transformation is occurring in health care, education, and human services.

Oregon has developed a new system of “outcome focused collaboratives” or Early Learning HUBs. The new policies enable the Oregon Early Learning Division to contract with sixteen new regional HUB coordinating bodies across the state that pull together resources focused on children and families.

The HUBs are based on cooperation, interaction, and the sharing of information across boundaries so that each agency will be better able to improve a child’s readiness for kindergarten.

They are charged with five core responsibilities: find the most needy children, work with families to identify needs, link families with appropriate service providers, account for outcomes cost effectively, and work across traditional program boundaries.

HUBs are in their infancy and will take a few years for them to be fully successful. In Multnomah County, the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette coordinates the HUB. Oregon is seeing the interest of the federal government clearly moving in this direction as reflected in recent grant funding.

The Oregon Department of Human Services administers funding for the Employment Related Day Care program that helps eligible low income working families pay for childcare. This helps parents to stay employed and children to be well cared for in stable child care arrangements.

More investment in proven community based support services allows flexible use of foster care funds so more children can be kept safely at home with their families.

The Ready for School campaign supports this work and has achieved legislative victories on behalf of children in recent years.

These include support for Senate Bill (SB) 909 in 2011, addressing early education, gaps and improved early learning activities; House Bill (HB) 4165 in 2012, focused on streamlining early child services, establishing  assessment and creating an early childhood programs quality rating system; HB 2013 that created a $4 million fund in 2013 to connect early childhood programs and HB 3234 that created an Early Learning Division thereby laying a strong foundation for early education.

This year the Oregon Legislature is further defining the structure of early childhood education and while most of them reorganize and improve the structure of early learning education in Oregon, funding is always a huge issue.

There is strong support for these initiatives from Oregon Governor, Kate Brown, and in the legislature, but the state budget does not have the funds for all of the many much needed and successful programs.

Education is one of the important issues regularly studied by the League of Women Voters in Oregon. Their recent “Children at Risk” study provides background on Oregon’s efforts to improve its system for young children from pregnancy to age six and it takes a comprehensive well-documented look at government programs and local services in Oregon.

To find the study, search online for LWV Children at Risk.