Gov. Kate Brown, Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek announced Oregon would pair $250 million in state money with $75 million in federal money for school districts and community organizations to use for child care, education and “summer enrichment programs that spark joy, foster creativity and encourage healing for our children.”
Although I and other education stakeholders are deeply grateful for any investment in students, I have been unable to figure out who, if anyone, in education was consulted on the Summer Learning and Child Care package.
I am concerned about the lack of input about the package’s development. School districts are already planning summer programs based on local conditions. I hope districts can use these additional dollars where they are most needed.
Education advocates will have a chance to weigh in Monday, March 15. The Joint Ways and Means Education Subcommittee will be taking invited and public testimony at 1 p.m. The Legislature’s website has information for submitting testimony and watching the proceedings.
Districts know there is a need to be met, but it is not that simple. Districts must consider bargaining issues to enlist staff to work through the usual summer break. It’s a tough time to ask that. Over the past year, administrators and staff have worked tirelessly to feed children, connect with students, and put in place comprehensive distance learning, hybrid instruction models and in-person learning with safety protocols. Students and staff are worn out.
The Tigard-Tualatin School District has long offered summer programs that deliver enriching and instructive activities for students, based on federal Title funding, according to Superintendent Sue Rieke-Smith and School Board Chair Maureen Wolf, the OSBA Board president, and this year will continue that.
“As all students have experienced varying levels of learning loss this year, the proposed additional state resources would allow these programs to expand,” Rieke-Smith said. “However, with continued concern regarding the fatigue and mental toll the pandemic has taken on students, administration and education staff, there seems to be a need for a short break and come back in three weeks to begin the summer programs."
Corvallis School Board Chair Sami Al-AbdRabbuh said his district has been planning summer learning, with a goal of providing students what they have been missing during the pandemic. He noted that there is a lot of community demand for some type of summer learning. With the state dollars and the district’s partnership with the Corvallis Public Schools Foundation, the district could double what has been done in previous summers, he said.
Such innovative uses could be money well spent, but districts need to know if they can start planning that now. And some districts don’t offer summer programs. They might choose to ramp something up quickly, or they might have better uses for additional funds.
Right now, schools have little guidance on the expected uses for this money outside the governor’s announcement and they might not get it for a while. Similar announcements in the past year had no district administration or school board input, creating a district “fire drill” to start new or expand existing programs in a short amount of time.
There will not be a specific bill for the summer learning programs, according to the Legislative Fiscal Office. The General Fund allocation will be handled in the Joint Ways and Means process in what is called the budget reconciliation bill. The bill at the end of session gathers together various bits and pieces of appropriations to go along with policy decisions.
For school purposes, a $250 million addition to the State School Fund, giving schools the greatest flexibility in use, might be a more attractive approach.
Summer learning is on the minds of school officials around the country. Education Week reports that plans in other states could give schools a boost or tie their hands when they are trying to do so much extra work.
We hope Oregon’s leaders will provide a model of cooperative planning.