Washington County Kids hopes to use Portland Children's Levy as inspiration.

Correction appended

PMG PHOTO: GEOFF PURSINGER - Katie Riley, of Hillsboro, addresses a crowd of nonprofit leaders and elected officials on March 8.Children across Washington County are missing out on after-school and early-childhood programs, thanks to high costs and a lack of options, according to a new report.

Washington County Kids, a group working to promote after-school programs in the county, said in a new report that children from Banks to Tigard are struggling to find places to spend time outside of school.

Washington County Kids director Katie Riley is looking to expand the number of early childhood, after-school and summer programs across Washington County and has called on the Washington County Board of Commissioners to find sustained funding for kids programs, and to serve as a "clearinghouse" for county residents.

"We are definitely dedicated to making that success happen," Riley said.

Members of Washington County nonprofits and elected officials gathered March 8 to tackle the issue. Whether students are in preschool or seniors in high school, Riley said, they face obstacles.

"Any time kids are not in school, they need to be supported," Riley said. "This really makes a difference in their lives."

Riley said attending after-school programs could impact a child later in life.

"Research shows these programs make a difference in kids' performance in school and their career choice and how successful they are in their community later in life," she said.

But that's often not possible. According to the report, several barriers keep kids from accessing programs. One is high costs. Preschool childcare ranges from $7,700 to $16,600 per year, according to the report. After- school programs can be as high as $800 per month.

"Some programs are free or subsidized, but many are beyond the budgets of people in our county," Riley said. "A $140-a-month program, with multiple children, can be a significant barrier to a family."

According to the study, most parents were satisfied with the programs in which they were involved, but many said they had experienced obstacles when finding programs for their children.

Some issues were small, Riley said, such as a lack of information about hours or pricing information.

There's also a lack of options for families, the report claims. There aren't enough programs out there for families, and the ones that are available don't have the funding to expand. Others, often, aren't able to accommodate parents' schedules.

"If a program ends at 5 p.m., and your work ends at 5 p.m., how can you get there to pick up your kids? Summer is particularly an issue for families. What do you do with a child during the summer? If your after-school program doesn't continue, or is a half-day, who takes the child?"

Riley said she is hoping lawmakers can be persuaded to go out for a levy similar to one Portland voters first approved in 2002. The Portland Children's Levy raised about $20 million per year for children's programs in the Rose City every year, and has been renewed by voters.

Dan Saltzman, a former Portland city councilor who retired last December, worked as the main architect of the Portland Children's Levy.

"You, too, can create funding for children outside of school," Saltzman said on March 8.

The Portland levy taxes city property owners, with funding going to after-school and early-childhood programs, as well as child abuse prevention and intervention, foster care programs and programs addressing childhood hunger.

Rachel Schutz, senior director at Inukai Family Boys & Girls Club in Hillsboro, said her organization does what it can for families, but doesn't have the funding to do everything she'd like to offer.

"Our biggest barrier is funding," she said. "The past two years are the first in our history we have had a wait list for kids. We are at building capacity. We'd love to expand and offer more, and we're fortunate that we're able to serve ages 6-18 and have that breadth of programming and be open. But every single year is a chase for dollars, which is unfortunate when you're serving the people who need you most in your community."

Susan Bender-Phelps, with Washington County Kids, said she and Riley have been talking about ways to expand programs for area children for nearly two decades.

"Having gone through the hell of raising money and chasing money, no one ... funds at the level that nonprofits need," Bender-Phelps said. "They all give on different criteria, but none give enough money to do the mission. It just doesn't happen."

Bender-Phelps said a Portland-style levy would change the way families in Washington County operate.

"If we can make this happen in our community, we can move the dial to serve our children, and the nonprofits," she said. "These are not county employees, these people work for nonprofits, often without benefits. This project, when we succeed, can make the difference like nothing else that's on the board today."

Editor's Note: This story incorrectly identified Susan Bender-Phelps.

By Geoff Pursinger
Editor, Hillsboro Tribune
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