Though the wheels of government can often turn slowly, Oregonians should know their state lawmakers have the power to move swiftly.
In the last few weeks alone, the Oregon Legislature fast-tracked over $400 million in bipartisan investments toward housing and semiconductors. Now, state legislators have a chance to move just as decisively for Oregon children in every corner of the state.
With broad support across the aisle, state legislators are positioned to pass a relatively modest but no less urgent $30 million investment in community-based and Tribal summer learning and enrichment programs.
Yet with summer around the corner, the clock is ticking. Every day of delay takes precious time away from community-based organizations and Tribal governments who need certainty about state funding to deliver robust, effective and often life-changing summer learning programs for Oregon youth from kindergarten through 12th grade.
This wouldn’t be the first time Oregon has taken bold action to expand when and where children have the opportunity to learn.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Legislature has made two historic investments in summer learning and enrichment. As young Oregonians navigated unprecedented disruptions to their educational journeys, these summertime investments rallied a statewide effort to boost youth engagement, accelerate their academic learning, nurture their social and emotional growth, and care for their mental health and well-being.
State leaders also recognized that schools can’t and shouldn’t do this work alone.
Oregon’s public investments in summer learning over the last two years were designed for a stronger and more equitable impact by investing directly into community-based organizations and Tribes, who hold deep roots in their communities and have earned trust with youth and families who are underserved by the public education system.
Investing directly in community-based programs statewide allowed summer learning opportunities to reach youth experiencing the gravest impacts of the pandemic and longstanding educational inequities, including youth of color, youth in rural communities, youth experiencing disability, and youth navigating poverty.
The far-reaching impact of these investments is clear.
According to a 2021 research evaluation by the Oregon Community Foundation, our state’s first $40 million investment made community-based summer learning available to approximately 340,000 youth across all 36 Oregon counties.
These programs upheld Oregon’s commitment to creating equitable access to education, with 55% of programs estimating that at least three-quarters of youths served would be from low-income families, and 45% of programs estimating that at least half of youths served would be youths of color.
With state support, community-based organizations and Tribes were able to reduce or entirely eliminate program fees and other barriers to participation for families.
After seeing the incredible impact of these programs, the Legislature decided to invest another $50 million in 2022.
For many, summer school conjures an image of students plodding through remedial lessons in a swelteringly hot classroom.
The reality is far more hopeful.
With state funding, community-based organizations and Tribes were able to design and deliver culturally relevant programs in safe and joyful environments.
Whether focused on the arts, STEM, language, culture, academics or wellness, programs across Oregon reflected what the National Academies of Sciences and the Learning Policy Institute describe as the essential elements of high-quality summer learning. They helped youths build strong and trusting relationships with peers and adults, experience a sense of belonging, develop their curiosity and leadership, and connect to their community, cultural identity and sense of place.
Today, as legislators in Salem craft a new state budget, they face a bigger question than simply investing another year in summer learning.
Will Oregon deepen its commitment to a year-round and whole-community approach to public education with proactive and sustainable investments in out-of-school time learning? Or will we turn back the clock by only investing in youth during the school year while in the school building during school hours?
Whether at home, at school or in their community, Oregon children are always learning.
To help our children realize their greatest talents, dreams and potential, we must continue investing in community-based organizations and Tribes as a critical part of Oregon’s learning ecosystem throughout the year. Their expertise, experience and partnership are essential to helping all Oregon youth heal, learn, grow and thrive this summer and into the future.
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