August 2, 2019

From Amanda Manjarres, Director of Advocacy at Latino Network

Too often, policymaking happens without the voice of impacted communities at the table. As a result, many proposed reforms fail to meet the diverse needs of historically underserved children and families and racial disparities continue to grow. Science tells us that 90% of children’s brain development occurs within their first five years. During this critical period, children are learning how to communicate, form relationships, and develop their early reading and writing skills. Yet, Oregon ranks 46th in the nation for providing early childhood education to three-to-five-year-olds and over 75% of low-income children, including many children of color, lack access to high quality early learning opportunities.

Developing Programming

Oregon’s demographics are rapidly changing and diversifying. Over 35% of all babies born in Oregon are children of color, and they comprise the majority of children ages 0–5 in at least five counties. Providing access to high quality early childhood programming that meets the unique cultural and linguistic needs of young children of color, immigrant, and refugee communities has been an ongoing challenge for mainstream systems. In response, culturally specific organizations across the state are developing programming that sustains children’s home culture, fosters safe learning environments that acknowledge and overcome historical trauma, supports and sustains social-emotional development to prepare children and their families for successful transitions into kindergarten. These programs are achieving incredible results, but they have not historically been included in the state’s publicly funded early learning system.

Broad Coalition of Partners

In 2019, the Oregon legislature passed the Oregon Student Success Act, which includes a $20 million Early Childhood Equity Fund to invest in culturally specific early learning programs. This legislation will provide Oregon’s Early Learning Division with the resources they need to improve data and access to these programs statewide. Latino Network, IRCO (the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization), the Black Parent Initiative, the Native American Youth and Family Center, KairosPDX, the Salem Kaizer Coalition for Equality, Adelante Mujeres, and FACES led a broad coalition of partners to advocate for the Equity Fund legislation in partnership with parents and families who shared their own experiences with lawmakers.

Opportunity to Thrive

Every child deserves the opportunity to thrive. Those with lived experience of the deep and historical inequities embedded in our current systems are best positioned to help identify effective solutions.  Culturally specific providers are experts in serving children and families of color and know what works for their communities. We are committed to creating an early learning system for Oregon that centers racial equity and in ensuring children are entering kindergarten ready to learn. We urge lawmakers to continue to turn to culturally specific partners as subject matter experts to help improve outcomes for young children across the state.