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Oregon to get portion of $21 billion for early and postsecondary education allocated by Congress

Students graduate from Chemeketa Community College in Salem.
(Rachel Alexander
Salem Reporter
Students graduate from Chemeketa Community College in Salem.

Education agencies, institutions and nonprofits in Oregon are slated to a portion of more than $21.3 billion from Congress for the current year.

The money is part of a $1.2 trillion federal spending package recently approved by Congress. It includes billions for child care, preschool, special education and higher education programs, as well as money for bolstering the workforce and health care projects, including in Oregon.

A news release from Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden said the money is aimed to help rural, coastal, and underserved communities in particular.

The funding follows the state’s short session that ended with little new money for education programs. Oregon’s 197 school districts got $30 million to fund summer school – $20 million less than Gov. Tina Kotek had requested – and $171 million for a program to help working parents afford childcare – $50 million less than what advocates had hoped.

As part of the federal spending package, Oregon will get a portion of more than $8.7 billion in grants for child care centers and to help families with children younger than 6 – and whose income falls below 85% of the state’s median income – afford child care. In Oregon that would apply to household income of up to about $65,000 a year.

More than $12 billion will go to federal Head Start and Early Head Start child care and preschool programs for low-income families nationwide. The programs will get an additional $315 million to grow all manner of preschool programs.

Nearly $376 million will be funneled into nonprofits, community colleges and universities to provide scholarships for migrant students and seasonal farmworkers and their children to pursue higher education or earn their GED, an alternative to a four-year high school diploma. In Oregon, money will flow to Oregon State University, Chemeketa Community College, Portland Community College and Treasure Valley Community College.

More than $14 billion is allocated for special education programs nationwide. It’s $20 million more than the Congress allocated during the 2023 fiscal year.

Still, advocates said, it’s less than what is needed.

“While a $20 million increase in federal funding is welcome, the funding falls far short of what Congress promised in 1975 and what children with disabilities need today,” Jake Cornett, executive director of Disability Rights Oregon, said in an email. “When Congress passed the federal special education law it set a target of funding 40% of the average per-pupil cost, yet $14.2 billion in funding only represents 12%. Congress has got a long way to go to make good on their 40% goal.”

About $1.2 billion will go to federal TRIO programs that support first-generation college students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds, such as low-income and homeless students.

Merkley, a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee since 2013, noted in the news release that he’s the first in his family with a college degree.

“Merkley knows firsthand the value of this type of support and has been a fierce advocate for the funding,” the news release said.

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics. 

Alex Baumhardt is a JPR content partner from the Oregon Capital Chronicle. Before that Alex was a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media.