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Make It Your Business Breakfast (April 28, 2011)

Make It Your Business Breakfast
April 28, 2011

It is great to be here with you this morning.

The Children’s Institute and Ready for School have been at the forefront of early childhood education, setting an example of what is possible when the public and private sectors come together to invest in children on the front end of their lives.

The work that’s been done in this field, has made a believer of me – and early childhood education is a core priority for my administration. I’m convinced that the strategic and sustained investment in children aged 0-5 is the key to achieving our state’s education and economic objectives.

Thanks to early childhood leaders like Swati Adarkar, who played a key role on my transition team on Early Childhood and Family Investment, my administration has a solid plan for unifying disparate early childhood programs, streamlining their administrative costs and measuring outcomes to ensure that every child in Oregon enters school ready and able to learn, enters first grade ready to read and leaves first grade reading.

Setting the Stage

Oregon’s budget shortfall represents an opportunity to change and improve the way the state does business today.  We have to act now, because our current systems for delivering Oregonians critical services they 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projections can’t keep pace with the rising costs of health care, human services and corrections or the siloed and outdated system we have for funding public education. 

Early childhood services is the foundation of far-reaching education, social service and economic development strategies to bend the cost curve on state programs and better position Oregon to compete in the 21st century.

Successful investment in the developmental needs of our children is the key to shifting state spending from dealing with the back-end results of neglect and abuse to front-end investment in people and prevention.

Problem

Far too many Oregon children are growing up without the family and community supports to be successful, independent learners. 

Every year, 45,000 children are born in Oregon.  Forty percent of these children are exposed to a well-recognized set of socio-economic, physical or relational risk factors which adversely impact their ability to develop the foundations of school success. These risk factors include poverty, unstable family backgrounds, substance abuse, criminal records and negative peer associations.  

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.However, Oregon’s system for early childhood services is neither integrated nor accountable and must change to more efficiently and effectively prepare children for school and reduce downstream social service costs.

  • $760 million/biennium in state tax dollars is spent on early childhood services across six state agencies and dozens of programs that are not coordinated, don’t measure outcomes consistently and are disconnected from the K-12 education system and health services.
  • The average cost per child served is nearly $15,000 per biennium, and less than half the estimated 108,000 children who need support are getting it.
  • Only 25-33% of at-risk children will meet state reading benchmarks in the next two years.

Solution

We need to significantly change the way we identify, deliver, assess and fund these services in order to make sure that every child enters school ready and able to learn, enters first grade ready to read and leaves first grade reading. Specifically we need to:

Early identification and support

  • make sure we do a better job identifying the children and families who need support through standardized screenings so that we are reaching more at-risk kids as early as possible.
  • establish neighborhood catchment areas at elementary school sites where a Family Support Manager will coordinate support services for families and children – not just in their early childhood years but also as they move on in grade school.

Measurement and accountability

  • convert current contracts with early childhood service providers to performance-based contracts with accountability for reaching identified goals;
  • require outcome measures for developmental domains:  child health; child language, literacy and learning; social-emotional and cognitive development; and family and support development;
  • adopt a kindergarten readiness assessment; and
  • deploy an integrated, statewide, child-based data system to track expenditures and return on investment – must link health and school readiness data to later school experience.

Budget and governance

  • Create an Early Learning Council to consolidate and streamline existing programs and funding streams with a Director in the Governor’s Office.

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.
  • The average cost per child served will be reduced by 30% to $5225 per child per year.

The Early Learning Council is just the first step in creating a seamless 0-20 education and funding and governance system – from early childhood through K-12 and post-secondary education and training – that provides better outcomes for our children, more resources for educators and a more prosperous future for our state.

With a unified and connected 0-20 system, we can budget the entire education system as an interdependent continuum instead of treating   early childhood, K-12, technical, community college, and university as separate, competing entities. And our decisions about funding throughout the continuum will be based on how well our students are doing in school, according to an integrated, statewide, child-based data system that will track expenditures and return on investment for education-related programs from zero-to-20 – not how many enrolled.

But most importantly, we will have a system in place that will continuously ensure that Oregon’s children have the skills and developmental assets they need to:

  • be ready to learn when they enter school;
  • able to stay on grade level as they move through their K-12;
  • take classes in college without the need for remediation; and
  • enter the workforce ready to take on – and perform – the tasks before them.

Our investment will be returned many times over through productive citizens; a more robust economy; and through reduced costs in social dependency public safety.

I’m confident in our ability to meet the challenge. But we cannot do it alone: Business and community leaders like you will be key to our success in transforming this system.

I hope you’ll join us.

 

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