Full-day kindergarten coming to Oregon

Full-day kindergarten coming to Oregon

(Ore.) Advocates nationally for full-day kindergarten are cheering a new, $7.3 billion state budget in Oregon that includes money for the expanded early learning program.

“Every child in Oregon deserves the opportunity to succeed, and this budget takes a major step forward for working families and kids throughout our state by funding full-day kindergarten,” House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said in a statement.

A great deal of focus, both at the federal and state level, has been placed on expanding access to early education programs – including preschool and kindergarten – as a way to close achievement gaps between student subgroups.

States including Michigan, Alabama, Texas and New York have all increased spending for these programs in recent years, citing research that demonstrates the many benefits of early childhood learning.

Studies show that students who participate in full-day kindergarten are often better prepared for primary-grade learning than those in half-day programs, and that socialization, mathematics and reading skills are all improved significantly.

Oregon’s budget increase is one step in an overall effort to restore school funding to pre-recession levels. The Legislature provided an additional $1 billion to the state’s K-12 schools in 2013, and the latest budget boosts education spending by $600 million.

Even so, a number of school districts report still having to make programmatic cuts in spite of the increased money.

 “We have been fighting to get our schools back on track for years, and (this) investment is another step in the right direction,” Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, said in a statement, “but it’s still not enough.”

Buckley’s sentiments were echoed by legislators on both sides of the isle throughout the budget process, all of whom believe that schools need more cash. Although the budget proposal moved through the House easily enough, the final Senate vote was punctuated by a tense, five-hour debate during which Republican members left the floor for nearly 30 minutes.

Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, was reportedly upset over Democrats' claims that a Republican alternative proposal to increase school funding by an additional $31 million to $7.56 billion would result in cuts to public safety and human services.

Democrats called their budget plan realistic and responsible, saying it is more of a starting point than a final number.

Schools may also see more money sooner than later. The budget requires that 40 percent of new revenue be added to the State School Fund if the economy shows improvement in the May revenue forecast.

In addition to funding full-day kindergarten, the budget also provides for investments to help support children with disabilities, low-income students and English language learners.