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Governor Kitzhaber talks about early childhood success

Governor Kitzhaber talks about early childhood success
September 29, 2011

Thank you, Ray. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today about what we are doing to improve early childhood success in Oregon, which is a core priority for my administration. The science on early childhood development is startlingly clear, and it has convinced me that strategic and sustained investment in children aged 0-5 is the key to effectively helping Oregon’s children grow up to be successful adults and to setting our state on a course to achieve our educational and economic objectives.

When I came into office earlier this year, Oregon faced economic and budget challenges similar to other states, highlighted by stubborn unemployment – which is still a far-too-high 13.9 percent here in Douglas County – and a serious state budget deficit… but our response has been different.

We have not lost sight of our shared vision to create a state where our children are ready to learn before they get to school; where they have the resources and attention to learn and our teachers have the time and support to teach; where drop-out rates are steadily falling and graduation rates are steadily rising; where all Oregon high school graduates are prepared to pursue a post-secondary education without remediation; and where 80 percent of them achieve at least two years of post-secondary education or training. We remain committed to creating an economy that produces family wage jobs and career pathways that lead to those jobs; and where the average per capita income exceeds the national average in every region.

And we know we can’t simply wait for better times to begin reinvesting in our future. 

We knew we had to take action during the 2011 session because our systems for delivering the critical services Oregonians need – from education to health care to public safety – are not sustainable.

Even the rosiest state revenue projections can’t keep pace with the rising costs of health care, human services and corrections, or the siloed and outdated system we have for funding public education. 

We needed a new approach – and we saw early childhood as the foundation to it. After all, a recent Planet Money report called preschool the best jobs-training program we’ve got. It is the limited window of time when kids can develop soft skills, like how to engage with others, problem solve, and manage anger. Studies show that kids who have access to high quality care and learning environments attain these critical skills and, as a result, are more likely to be employed and have better earnings as adults than those who don’t. They are also less likely to be arrested and get sick.

Yet far too many of Oregon’s children are growing up without the family and community supports to be successful, independent learners. Of the 45,000 children born in Oregon every year, forty percent are considered at-risk: They live in poverty, and may have an unstable family, or a parent who abuses drugs or has a criminal record. Overcoming these challenges early is the key to avoiding and having to pay for the all-too-familiar problems down the road: social dependency and/or involvement in the criminal justice system.

The challenges facing the current system, throughout the entire education continuum, are all too familiar:

  • Oregon spends three-quarters of a billion dollars in state and federal money every two years on more than two dozen early childhood programs and services. Yet less than half of at-risk children ages 0 to five, receive the support they need to be ready and able to learn when they get to kindergarten.
  • Many of those students who start behind don’t catch up. Only 25 percent of at-risk children meet state benchmarks for reading in the first grade – creating counseling and remediation needs that drain resources from classrooms.
  • We all know that our high school completion rates are far too low: only about two-thirds of Oregon students earn a regular diploma – and only about half of our African American, Hispanic and Native American students graduate. 
  • Fewer than 25 percent of Oregon students are college-ready when they leave high school, yet 60 percent of Oregon jobs expected in coming years will require at least a technical certificate or associate’s degree.
  • And for many reasons – including inadequate preparation and the increasing cost of tuition – many students who do enter community college or university programs leave without earning the credential or degree that will allow successfully compete in today’s economy.

The end result: a generation of Oregonians who are now less educated than their own parents – less educated than the U.S. average; and less educated than in many of the leading countries with which we compete in the global economy.

Clearly, we need to do more because the status quo simply is not fair to our children, our service providers and educators, or to Oregon’s tax payers. That’s why we set out to more efficiently and effectively prepare children for school and reduce downstream social service costs.  We targeted three areas for policy and system change to achieve the goal of ensuring that every child enters school ready and able to learn, leaves first grade reading, and is reading at grade level in third grade. 

First: Early Identification and Support - We need to:

  • Ensure early identification of families and children for critical indicators of risk; and
  • Establish neighborhood service areas around elementary school with a Family Support Manager to coordinate support services for families and children.

Second: Shared Measurement and Accountability – We must:

  • Convert current contracts with early childhood service providers to performance-based contracts with accountability for reaching child-centered outcomes, including cumulative limits on administrative overhead costs;
  • Require outcome measures for developmental domains: child health; child language, literacy and learning; social-emotional and cognitive development; as well as cost effective family support;
  • Implement a kindergarten readiness assessment so that kindergarten teachers will know the readiness levels of each student and meet their needs accordingly, and so that we can measure and adjust the pre-K investments that we expect should lead to kindergarten readiness. 
  • Better use the data we collect to measure return on investment and provide students with the precise supports that they need as individuals.

Third: Budget and Governance –

  • In the 2011 session, we passed Senate Bill 909, which created an Early Learning Council to consolidate and streamline existing programs and funding streams with a Director in the Governor’s Office. The Early Learning Council is comprised of early childhood experts, as well as civic and business leaders who aren’t beholden to any particular structure or program but are instead committed to finding and making innovative changes that will create better outcomes for Oregon’s kids.  This Early Learning Council includes Douglas County’s own Norm Smith, President of the Ford Family Foundation.

We have set ambitious but achievable goals for a revamped system:

  • Within two years, at least 60,000 children will be served – a 50% increase.
  • At least 70% of children served will meet state benchmarks for kindergarten and first grade by 2020.

Senate Bill 909 did more than create the Early Learning Council— it is the first step in creating a seamless 0-20 education system that integrates early childhood services, K-12, and post-secondary education and training. By integrating funding and governance of the entire education spectrum, we will be able to provide better outcomes for our children, more resources for educators, and a more prosperous future for our state.

The changes are significant. Many of them will be difficult to make. However, with the appropriate investment, successful service delivery, and accountability for defined outcomes, children will enter our education system with the skills and developmental assets required to complete their education and enter the workforce.  Our investment will be returned through productive, responsible citizens; and through reduced costs in social services and in public safety.

I’m confident in our ability to meet the challenge.




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