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With summer funding bill stalled, Oregon education leader advises schools, nonprofits to plan on doing without

In this file photo from 2021, Portland-area students painted stock tanks in a summer program.
Elizabeth Miller
In this file photo from 2021, Portland-area students painted stock tanks in a summer program.

Oregon school districts and community organizations are hearing from the head of the state education department, that they shouldn’t plan on money from the state for summer programs this year.

Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill wrote separately to school and nonprofit leaders Tuesday, sharing that advice.

“Despite the broad support for investments in summer learning and enrichment over the past two years and our advocacy for this year, it doesn’t appear there is the needed legislative support to give you the certainty and time you need to plan for the summer,” Gill said in his one-page message to school districts.

Over the last two summers, the state has spent a combined $350 million on summer programs, in an effort to help fill learning gaps caused by pandemic disruptions and distance learning.

Both Gill and Gov. Tina Kotek supported sending $50 million dollars to school districts and community organizations for summer programming for the upcoming summer. But a bill to fund summer programs has been stuck in the legislature. Over the last few weeks, Gill and Kotek have leaned on legislative leaders to approve summer funding soon, so that school districts and organizations could finalize course offerings, hire staff and reach out to students and families. Now Gill is shifting from advocacy to alternatives.

Gill suggested that school districts “braid and blend” available funds, including remaining federal relief dollars. To nonprofits, Gill suggested partnerships with school districts to ensure that some summer programs could still take place.

“At the Governor’s direction, I am encouraging district superintendents to leverage other funding they have to continue summer programming this year, including federal dollars, and to partner with tribes and [community-based organizations] to continue some summer learning,” Gill wrote. “However, I know this does not help to address the funding gap for community organizations.”

The Oregon Association of Education Service Districts managed the distribution of grants to community organizations last summer. The team there shared Gill’s message Tuesday afternoon “with a heavy heart.”

Gill encouraged school districts to use federal funds to focus on young students and teaching literacy this summer, offering support via a draft of Oregon’s Early Literacy Framework.

He told community organizations to partner with school districts, and try to retain their employees and do what they can without state funding, noting that Gov. Kotek has “expressed a commitment to continue to advocate for 2024 summer funding.”

Gill concluded his messages to both groups the same way, leaving a sense of hope that things might turn around.

“If circumstances change and ODE receives any signal that the Oregon Legislature will fund summer programming in 2023, I will update you as soon as possible so that you can respond accordingly”.

This story may be updated.

Copyright 2023 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Elizabeth Miller is a JPR content partner from Oregon Public Broadcasting. Elizabeth is an Ohio native and a graduate of Baldwin Wallace University.
Rob Manning is a JPR content partner from Oregon Public Broadcasting. Rob has reported extensively on Oregon schools and universities as OPB's education reporter and is now a news editor.