Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children
Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Oregon is taking a bold step forward by expanding preschool opportunities for children from families whose incomes are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

“On 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,” the nonprofit Alliance for Early Success explains on its website.

“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 Alliance for Early Success unites state, national, and funding partners and advances policies that lead to improved outcomes for young children ages 0 to 8.

The news website OregonLive says that the legislation, House Bill 3380, “designates $30 million to establish a statewide program in which public and private providers offer full-day preschool, ensure kindergarten readiness, hire lead teachers who have at least a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, and pay them comparably to nearby kindergarten teachers.”

The new law “allows a mix of programs that meet quality standards, to apply for state funding to offer preschool to low income (families of) 3- and 4-year-olds,” Swati Adarkar, president and CEO of the advocacy organization the Children’s Institute, told television station KOIN. “All the evidence really shows, particularly for low income kids, you need that level of dosage to really address some of those opportunities and achievement gaps.”

KOIN also notes that, “Currently, Oregon has 32,000 low income children without access to high quality preschool.”

Oregon sees preschool as the first step toward long-term success. As Jefferson Public Radio explains: “Oregon has the lowest high school graduation rate of any state, less than 69 percent in 2013. The state’s long-term plan to improve graduation rates starts really early — with preschoolers.”

The public radio story goes on to tell the story of two brothers, one enrolled in preschool and one who wasn’t:

“After school on a hot spring day, Roy and his older brother, Dude, ran around the playground at Earl Boyles Elementary School in East Portland. Their shirts were off and their long, blond hair flew behind them as they ran.

“There’s no mistaking they’re brothers. But they have their differences. For instance, 5-year-old Roy spends three hours a day at the new Earl Boyles preschool, which didn’t exist when Dude was his age.

“’It’s pretty clear that Dude didn’t have that preschool experience,’ said their mom, Debra Rabedeau.

“Dude, now in second grade, requires extra assistance in reading.

“Research shows preschool builds a foundation for literacy. Oregon students who are strong readers by third grade graduate 77 percent of the time. If they’re not? The Oregon graduation rate is 53 percent.”

To provide more support for even more children, a Children’s Institute blog post adds that: “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.”

Known as a strong supporter of early education, Oregon Governor Kate Brown is expected to sign all of this legislation into law.

In a statement printed in the Children’s Institute blog, Governor Brown said:

“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.”