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Oregon Gov. Brown, Lawmakers Urge Support For Summer School Programs

<p>Oregon Gov. Kate Brown speaks to reporters from her ceremonial office in the state Capitol in Salem, Ore., Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.</p>

Bradley W. Parks

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and leading Oregon lawmakers Monday urged the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education to support a proposed $250 million package that would include funding for summer "enrichment activities" for students.

A plan from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and leading Oregon lawmakers to provide academic programs and enrichment activities to students this summer got a hearing Monday.

Oregon’s Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education met virtually Monday to hear from three of the state’s top elected officials on a $250 million proposal to expand learning and childcare this summer.

“This summer learning and childcare package will set our kids up for success by letting them be kids again in environments that foster creativity, learning and joy,” Brown said to the subcommittee.

Brown, Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, announced the package last week. The $250 million would come from the Legislature’s General Fund, and the total plan could be worth up to $325 million with additional federal funding, some of that coming from school districts.

The package would provide:

Any of the $250 million not spent by the program would be retuned to the state’s General Fund budget.

“Too many children who need help are not getting it,” Brown said.

She noted that in some school districts, as many as half of all high school students are failing at least one class, and some districts have high chronic absentee rates — especially among students of color. Brown also said many students continue to suffer with depression during the pandemic.

“Students need academic enrichment opportunities this summer — there is no question,” Brown said. “But to help our children get back on track, we also must make sure we are attending to their most basic needs.”

Senate President Courtney noted that many students are struggling emotionally during the pandemic without access to teachers and friends.

“We’ve introduced these summer programs because it has never been more urgent to invest in our kids,” Courtney said Monday. “This summer, we want them to go outside. We want them to have fun. We want them to learn. We need to support their mental and physical health.”

House Speaker Kotek spoke of how the pandemic has not only upended students’ lives, but their parents’ as well.

“For the students and parents who are listening,” Kotek said over the livestreamed hearing, “I know many of you are ready for this and will need access to more activities. We are stepping up to encourage schools and community groups to meet the need.”

Brown stated that the funds would be distributed equitably and would be “inclusive of culturally-specific and relevant programming.”

Others raised questions in their testimony Monday, including Oregon Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose — who represents multiple rural communities west of Portland to the coast.

Johnson expressed concerns about how the program would roll out in rural places — especially places that don’t have central community organizations like a YMCA or a Boys and Girls Club.

“I’m going to call your attention to the need to leave flexibility and room for very specific needs as this $250 million rolls out,” Johnson said.

Johnson gave examples of four community swimming pools that serve children in her district which have lost revenue during the pandemic.

Johnson said she also had concerns about transportation, supplies and other provisions in the program.

“I hope that we do not create a lot of new programs that are unsustainable over the long haul,” she said. “We have to remember this is one-time money, and we are facing a lot of challenges in the 2023-25 budget.”

Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill said the department has began sharing the proposal with school districts.

“Assuming that this does go forward and get funded,” Gill said. “We’ll be reaching out to them to begin to do planning.”

Gill said he estimates that districts could have access to funding and be ready to roll out the programs by May 15.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Meerah Powell is a general assignment and breaking news reporter for OPB. She previously worked as a news reporter and podcast producer for Eugene Weekly in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Along with writing and audio work, Meerah also has experience with photography and videography. She graduated from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication.