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Every two years, state agencies are required to submit an Agency Request Budget (ARB) outlining their recommended investments for the Governor and Legislature’s consideration. The 2023-25 ARB is the first budget developed for the Department of Early Learning and Care.
The Department of Early Learning and Care (DELC) was created to unify and strengthen Oregon’s early learning and child care system so that families with young children have access to the early learning services, supports and information they need to thrive. With Oregon’s largest child care and early learning supports in one place, DELC is positioned to improve services through system-wide data analytics and quality assurance; coordinated program administration, internal and external to the Department; and intentional engagement with communities to inform the policies that affect children and families and ensure the health and safety of children in care.
The DELC Agency Request Budget (ARB) was build around three priorities: 1) centering families; 2) supporting the early learning workforce; and 3) sustainable operations. After intentional efforts by the legislature to amplify the importance of a coordinated early learning system, the establishment of DELC provides necessary infrastructure to support Oregon’s early learning and child care success. This allows continued investments in early learning and child care to be leveraged with efficiency and system coordination to reduce the burden of accessing services on families, child care providers and early childhood educators.
The Department of Early Learning and Care receives its statutory authority from Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) Chapter 329A and ORS 326.325 – 326.435, 329.160 – 329.425, 336.101, 336.104, and 417.705 – 417.795. The agency, via the Early Learning Council, promulgates rules in Chapter 414 of the Oregon Administrative Code.
The Governor’s Early Learning Council was established to “coordinate a unified and aligned system of early learning services for the purposes of ensuring that: (a) children enter school ready to learn: and (b) families are healthy, stable and attached.” [ORS 326.425] In pursuit of these directives, the Early Learning Council developed Raise Up Oregon in 2018 as the state’s five–year, cross-sector early childhood strategic plan (2019-2023), which has also served as the strategic plan for the Department of Early Learning and Care (DELC) thus far. The plan was developed through a year-long process that included extensive engagement with community partners, child care providers, Early Learning Hubs, community-based organizations and families and is organized around three high-level goals:
The plan outlines specific objectives, strategies, and action items that guide DELC’s investments, policy development, and program administration to advance the above goals.
The Early Learning Council continuously tracks and monitors progress towards implementing Raise Up Oregon, and in 2021, it published the Raise Up Oregon Progress Report. With the initial Raise Up Oregon five-year plan set to expire at the end of 2023, the Early Learning Council is in the process of revising and releasing an updated plan. As with the development of the current edition of Raise Up Oregon, the revision process includes extensive engagement with families, child care providers, and other community partners. The revised report is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2023.
The Agency is taking this opportunity to move away from Raise Up Oregon as its strategic plan to develop an agency-focused plan informed by Raise Up Oregon that holds the Agency accountable. The creation of the Department of Early Learning and Care allows Oregon to have an early childhood and child care focus when it comes to developing performance measurement standards, program evaluations, and establishing processes for data analytics and quality assurance. This work will evolve with the Agency over time and will allow future Agency Request Budgets to be rooted in strong performance measures and links to long-term outcomes. The Agency recognizes the importance of leveraging this opportunity to build more than an agency – a system – that meets the needs of children, families, and providers across the state. This is an opportunity to be proactive, not just responsive, and will require the time and resources necessary to do this work well.
In the 2023-25 biennium, the Department of Early Learning and Care will focus on three key strategies to support the early learning system and child care sector:
Early childhood education and child care is a critical support for families and provides key resources to promote healthy early childhood development. Research has shown that the effects of high-quality early childhood education can carry through to high school graduation, degree attainment, and even have positive long-term health impacts. The Department of Early Learning and Care’s proposed ARB is focused on expanding families’ access to high-quality, affordable, developmentally appropriate, culturally responsive and inclusive child care and early learning settings. While many of these services are tied to income requirements, the Agency’s ARB also recognizes the need to provide wrap around supports to families, offering screening services, transportation, and settings that better serve children experiencing disabilities. The Agency has a strong commitment and serious responsibility for maintaining the health and safety of children in the child care settings it regulates and monitors.
A strong early learning system requires a strong early learning workforce – a workforce that is well-trained, fairly compensated, culturally responsive, and culturally, racially and linguistically diverse. Currently, the workforce faces low wages and high rates of turnover. The availability of professional training and support is often limited and difficult to access. The Agency’s ARB also focuses on ensuring the early learning workforce has the resources to be able to meet the needs of the children in their care. In addition to specific programs focused on training, coaching and continuous quality improvement, the budget also addresses workforce compensation through funding of DELC administered early learning and child care assistance programs.
The Department of Early Learning and Care is the result of years of recognition of the importance of early childhood development and funding an historically under-resourced sector that provides critical supports for children and families. As the investments in early childhood have grown, the infrastructure has been the last to develop. The Agency’s operations budget represents 9.67% of the overall 2023-25 Current Service Level. While the Agency brings together core early learning and child care functions into one place, the Agency provides the framework and infrastructure to ensure that families continue to have increased access to the supports they need to be successful. The Agency’s ARB includes resources to expand critical components of work necessary to providing efficient, high-quality services. This includes investing in program quality assurance, program evaluation and research, data analytics, and procurement capacity. While the Agency’s ARB includes additional investments in infrastructure, these POPs are primarily focused on direct services resources, which would lower the Agency’s operations budget to 7.79%.
The Department of Early Learning and Care has identified the following initiatives and policy option packages (POPs) for the 2023-25 biennium. These initiatives reflect the following priorities of the Agency:
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