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Funding proposal targets enrichment activities to help children recover from social, academic impacts of COVID-19

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Children participate in a Play Grow Learn summer camp in 2019. A new state funding proposal aims to offer summer enrichment activities for Oregon kids, in an effort to help them recover from the social, emotional and academic impacts of COVID-19. A $250 million funding proposal announced Monday, March 8, by Gov. Kate Brown's office aims to address the social, emotional and academic needs of kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The spending plan is targeted at helping kids recover from the isolation and learning loss impacts of school closures and social distancing mandates.

As written, the funds would pay for grants in five specific investment areas: summer enrichment programs; recreational activities; academic support; childcare services and early learning summertime support programs.

The funding package, rolled out by Gov. Brown, Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek, is billed as a "restorative summer learning and childcare package."

"With students getting back into the classroom this spring, we have to facilitate a fulfilling summer for kids and their parents," said Speaker Kotek. "They are ready for it and they'll need more available activities. We are stepping up to encourage schools and community groups to meet the need. The summer is coming — let's get ready."

According to the funding proposal, the summer learning programs would target marginalized and historically underserved communities, which have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

State leaders say the investments help address students' academic and social-emotional needs.

Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner called the spending package "a valuable first step in investing in Oregon's students as we recover from the pandemic."

The bulk of the money — $90 million — would go toward summer enrichment and academic program grants for K-8 students.

"These can include programs that focus on traditional outdoor activities like swimming, hiking, basketball, etc., or be focused around instructional activities such as music, dance, art, foreign languages, robotics, etc.," a detailed spending plan document states. "Districts would also be asked that the programming be geared to serve students who experience disability, those who do not yet speak English — and that culturally specific and relevant opportunities be offered."

The funds would be disbursed to school districts to administer programs. School districts need to agree to cover 25% of the program costs.

An additional $72 million would go toward academic support grants for high schoolers who need to recover credits in order to graduate. Another $40 million would fund summer activities such as day camps and park programs, while $30 million would pay for school childcare grants for wraparound services like mental and behavioral health and nutrition. Another $13 million would fund early learning programs for pre-K children. The remaining $5 million would go toward administrative costs, according to the funding package.

"The past year has been hard on Oregon kids and their caregivers — especially working mothers — in so many ways," Gov. Brown said. "As COVID-19 recedes from our communities, it's time to bring back the summer enrichment programs that spark joy, foster creativity and encourage healing for our children, who have persevered through adversities few generations have faced at their age. And, we must make sure families and children have equitable access to these programs as we work to eliminate historic disparities that have been exacerbated during the pandemic."

Nearly $75 million in additional federal funds would also be included in the funding package, via school district matching funds and the federal Employment-Related Daycare Program.

The Oregon Department of Education and the state's Early Learning Division would present the plan to the Education Subcommittee of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means, and the funding would be included in the 2019-21 rebalance bill, according to the governor's office.

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