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Report: High-Quality Pre-K in OR Should Be Available to More

April 11, 2012

PORTLAND, Ore. - Oregon is getting high marks compared with most other states for the quality of its preschool programs.

A new report ranks Oregon third in the nation in terms of state spending. However, the National Institute for Early Education Research says, relatively few families are able to take advantage of the programs. Dr. Steve Barnett, who directs the nonpartisan research group, explains.

"Oregon offers a relatively high-quality preschool program (and) meets eight of our 10 standards for quality. But it only serves 8 percent of the 4-year-olds. That's barely up from the 6 percent that were served a decade ago."

There's a reason for the big discrepancy between high funding and low access, says David Mandell, policy and research director for the Oregon-based Children's Institute. The programs in Oregon focus on enrolling children with special needs and from low-income families, and they help not just the child but the family. Mandell says that kind of system may cost more, but is more effective.

"When we look at the per-child ranking that Oregon has in that report, it really reflects Oregon's commitment to helping those families connect to needed social services, and really making parents a part of the program."

The report notes that the federal government and most states are spending less money on early learning now than in 2008. Mandell says Oregon lawmakers have tried to make up at least some of the difference.

"In 2007, the Legislature almost doubled the state commitment to the program, and that funding has really been, for the most part, strongly protected during some really, really tight budget times."

Oregon got some good news this week which might help boost preschool access: It is one of five states eligible to reapply for a federal Early Learning Challenge Grant. The last time money was available, 36 states applied and nine were funded. Oregon just missed making the cut.

The report is online at

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR