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Proposal to fund summer school moves forward, with 40% less money

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Proposal to fund summer school moves forward, with 40% less money

Feb 28, 2024 | 2:00 pm ET
By Alex Baumhardt
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Proposal to fund summer school moves forward, with 40% less money
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A proposal for additional state funding for summer learning passed an important budget-committee Wednedsay, Feb. 28, but with $20 million less than originally requested. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

UPDATED at 12:00 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 with a statement from summer learning advocates.

Lawmakers on Wednesday took a bittersweet vote to advance funding for summer school and community-based summer learning programs after failing to provide anything last year. 

The eight members of the Joint Ways and Means Education Subcommittee voted unanimously to pass $30 million for summer learning. The proposal will move to the House for voting. 

It’s $20 million less than the $50 million state Rep. Susan McLain, D-Hillsboro, proposed as lead sponsor of House Bill 4082 earlier in the session, and less than 20% of what the state offered for summer learning in 2021 and 2022. 

“We’ve got a lot of kids out there that are really, really going to have a better summer and more opportunity for wraparound services and for experiences that are going to increase their skill level,” McLain, co-chair of the committee, told her colleagues during the Wednesday hearing. But, she added, “This is just the first round. We have so much to do.”

If the bill makes it through both the House and Senate, the $30 million would be split between the state’s 197 school districts and 19 education service districts this summer, with priority going to the state’s 530 Title I schools, where at least one-third of students are from low-income households or receive support services from the state. This is because the money would come from the Statewide Education Initiatives, a pot of money set aside to help underserved students.

Districts would also be able to distribute funds to community-based nonprofit groups such as the YMCA or Boys & Girls Club. The proposal also creates a workgroup to study and propose long-term solutions for sustainable, consistent funding for summer school.

Gov. Tina Kotek, who has made summer school funding a priority, had hoped to see the full $50 million pass, according to spokesperson Elisabeth Shepard.

“She appreciates legislative leadership meeting the urgency of the moment by advancing this broadly bipartisan bill,” Shepard said in an email. “The governor is also committed to engaging in meaningful discussion to identify long-term funding for summer and afterschool learning.”

The smaller budget follows recent criticism from Democratic leaders in the House and Senate that $50 million was too large a sum to take from the state’s general fund, which will be drawn on heavily this session for the governor’s housing and legislative addiction initiatives. Senate President Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, and House Speaker Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, also said they wanted more accountability measures baked in to ensure money will help Oregon kids get caught up on core subjects, as reported by The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Wagner’s office did not respond to questions through spokesman Connor Radnovich but in an email, Rayfield said he was part of ongoing discussions about summer learning and that he wanted money spent “strategically.” 

“We need to make sure our kids have the resources they need to learn. This means making sure we are investing strategically and getting the outcomes we want,” he said.

During the summer of 2023 lawmakers did not allocate any additional money for summer school or community-based summer learning programs.Some programs that were staffed in 2021 and 2022 shut down last year. School districts and larger groups such as YMCA and Boys & Girls Club cut field trips and other offerings. A survey from the Oregon Afterschool & Summer for Kids Network, or OregonASK, a nonprofit network of educational groups, found that despite increased demand statewide, about half of community groups were forced to scale back programs without the additional state funding.

“We’re encouraged to see the Legislature recommit to funding high-quality summer learning for Oregon children. It will make an immediate difference in their lives,” Whitney Grubbs, executive director of the nonprofit Foundations for a Better Oregon, said in an email. “Though advocates hoped for more, our state can build on this funding to make even bolder, more sustainable, and community-wide investments in summer and after-school learning for years to come.”