On Monday, July 6 the 2015 Legislature finished, ending what will be remembered as a historic session for early learning in Oregon. The Legislature made over $100 million in new investments in early childhood and passed legislation creating a new mixed-delivery preschool program and strengthening Oregon’s child care subsidy program for working families experiencing poverty. The new Early Learning Hub system also received a strong vote of confidence, including new investments to support their work in building the capacity of their communities to better meet the needs of young children and their families.
Child Care & Child Care Subsidies
The Legislature passed HB 2015, a significant reform of Employment Related Day Care (ERDC), Oregon’s child care subsidy program for working families experiencing poverty. This legislation will enable ERDC to: better support families experiencing poverty to participate in the workforce; promote positive child development; increase the number of children in quality care; and better ensure the health and safety of children. HB 2015 does this by:
- Creating one year protected eligibility so families don’t lose their child care when they experience a change in income or work hours.
- Linking ERDC and the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), so that ERDC families who voluntarily choose a QRIS provider get a reduced co-pay and the providers receive an enhanced reimbursement.
- Creating opportunities for license-exempt care providers, not eligible for the QRIS, to learn evidence-based or best practices to improve the quality of their care.
- Authorizing the Office of Child Care to perform on-site health and safety monitoring of license-exempt providers receiving ERDC funds in accordance with new federal regulations.
- Allowing working parents taking college classes to qualify.
The Legislature invested $45 million in Employment Related Day Care to support these policy changes.
In addition, the Legislature also invested $2.3 million to support Focused Child Care Networks to ensure that child care providers serving communities experiencing poverty and culturally and linguistically diverse communities have access to the Quality Rating and Improvement System.
In passing HB 3380, the Legislature authorized the creation of a new mixed-delivery preschool program. “Mixed-delivery” refers to the fact that child care providers, Oregon Head Start Pre-Kindergarten programs, school-based preschool programs and Community-based organizations will be eligible to provide preschool services through this program, as long as they obtain a 4- or 5-star QRIS rating and meet the other standards specified in the bill. Three- and four-year old children whose families’ income is up 200% of the Federal Poverty Line will be eligible for the preschool. Early Learning Hubs will play an important role, with funding flowing through the Hubs, and the Hubs identifying needs of underserved populations and partnering with early learning programs within their community to provide the preschool services. There will be a one-year implementation phase, with the new preschool programs enrolling children in the fall of 2016.
The Legislature allocated about $27 million for this program. A third of those dollars will go to Oregon Head Start Pre-Kindergarten to serve children on their waitlists starting this fall. The remainder of funds will go to the mixed-delivery preschool programs and should enable about 1,400 children to have access to preschool starting in fall 2016.
Early Learning Hubs
In recognition that the Early Learning Hubs are now a vital part of Oregon’s early learning system, SB 213 removed the language of “demonstration project” from the statutory language governing them. The bill also requires an annual report from the Early Learning Council on the progress of the Hubs and an evaluation of the Early Learning Hub System to be conducted over the next three years. The Legislature also increased direct funding to the Hubs by $10.5 million for the biennium, for a total of $15 million.
The Legislature increased funding for a number of other key early childhood programs:
- Healthy Families Oregon (family support and coaching): $9.5 million
- Early Intervention/ Early Childhood Special Education: $4 million
- Relief Nurseries: $1.2 million
- Kindergarten Partnership Innovation Fund: $5 million