2024 Legislative Session Starts Strong for Summer Learning

FBO joins over 20 community partners and nearly 30 bipartisan legislative sponsors to champion House Bill 4082 for Oregon children.

Children at the Capaces Leadership Institute's summer learning program in 2021. Photo by Yvanna Ramos.
Children at the Capaces Leadership Institute's summer learning program in 2021. Photo by Yvanna Ramos.

Louis Wheatley is Strategic Communications Director at Foundations for a Better Oregon.

Louis Wheatley is Strategic Communications Director at Foundations for a Better Oregon.

On Monday morning, the Oregon Legislature officially gaveled in the 2024 legislative short session. By Monday afternoon, dozens of youth, community, and public education advocates had already made their voices heard in Salem, organizing a powerful show of support for restarting Oregon’s investment in summer learning in 2024 and beyond.

“I really am so excited about this testimony, [and] I want to underscore how much of a priority this is,” said Rep. Courtney Neron, chair of the House Education Committee, as she opened a public hearing on House Bill 4082 to invest in summer learning. Among the bipartisan bill’s more than two dozen sponsors, Rep. Neron highlighted the united support of legislators who chair committees overseeing early childhood education, K-12 schools, higher education, and the state budget. 

Such broad support is a recognition that summer learning is not only an essential part of Oregon’s public education system, but also an essential investment in Oregon’s children and future at a time when the state is still vexed by the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts and various urgent crises.

“We understand and work every day to address the lack of affordable housing, the drug addiction epidemic that is wrecking our communities, and the lack of access to culturally specific mental health supports for our families,” said Melissa Hicks, Director of Impact at Self-Enhancement, Inc., at the House Education Committee’s public hearing on House Bill 4082. So where does summer learning fit in among the many funding priorities state legislators are considering? It has to be “both/and,” argued Hicks, not “and/or.”

With state economists now telling legislators they have nearly $560 million more to invest this year than originally expected, the opportunity is clear. As our state and children face urgent and overlapping crises, Oregon leaders have the power, obligation, and pathway to take bold action.

“I don’t believe this is the moment to be overly cautious,” Governor Tina Kotek recently told OPB. “We just have to make sure that we’re putting things in the right place. [...] Let’s focus on housing. Let’s focus on behavioral health. Let’s focus on summer learning.”

Students at the Chinese Friendship Association of Portland's summer learning program in 2021. Photo by Sarah Arnoff Yeoman.
Students at the Chinese Friendship Association of Portland's summer learning program in 2021. Photo by Sarah Arnoff Yeoman.

Getting Summer Learning Back on Track

After the Oregon Legislature made historic investments in summer learning during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, state funding lapsed in 2023, disappointing youth and families across the state. House Bill 4082 will put Oregon back on track with a $50 million investment in summer learning this year. It will immediately expand access to high-quality summer learning programs that boost youth engagement; accelerate learning; nurture physical, mental, and behavioral health; and support college and career readiness.

“As a state we cannot say we want to do what’s right based on the research, but then not invest in summer learning another year,” said Pooja Bhatt, ​​​​​​Education Initiative Director for Governor Tina Kotek, at Monday’s House Education Committee hearing. “We cannot afford to see what outcomes will be—particularly for historically underserved youth—by forgoing yet another year.”

Mercedes Elizalde, Director of Advocacy at Latino Network, agreed. After the state failed to fund summer learning last year, Latino Network observed a 50% drop in the number of youth who were able to access case management, mentorship, credit recovery, and support for classroom readiness.

“Without investment and long-term planning for partnerships,” Elizalde explained, “we will see a backslide that perpetuates the school-to-prison pipeline, over-policing communities of color, and a widening of education and health inequities that we work so hard to try to diminish.”

Funding shortfalls for summer learning also sharply impact communities with childcare shortages, forcing parents to leave the workforce and stay home with their children. Oregon’s “inability to sustain and build programs has not only been detrimental to children, but has had negative impacts on our parents, employers, and economic community as a whole,” wrote Maria Weer, Executive Director of Building Healthy Families in Wallowa County.

Students at Adelante Mujeres' summer learning program in 2021. Photo by Sarah Arnoff Yeoman.
Students at Adelante Mujeres' summer learning program in 2021. Photo by Sarah Arnoff Yeoman.

Positive Experiences and Proven Impacts

In the weeks leading up to legislative session, new recommendations from the White House’s Improving Student Achievement Agenda and the Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research both urged states to expand summer learning and after-school programming to help students recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning. State legislators on the House Education Committee were also reminded that Oregon’s own investments in summer learning made a meaningful difference at a critical time.

“We have firsthand knowledge of the importance that summer and after-school programming has on student success,” said Belle Cantor, Senior Program Officer for Education at the Oregon Community Foundation. “High-quality summer learning programs offering a combination of academics and enrichment can help youth build strong and trusting relationships with peers and adults, develop a sense of belonging, support academic engagement and achievement, and build resilience through cultural identity,” she explained, citing the foundation's research on the impact of Oregon’s 2021 investment in community-based summer learning.

In oral and written testimony, community advocates brought the research to life for state legislators with extraordinary stories of student impact. Hicks spotlighted Self Enhancement, Inc.’s five-week full-day summer program serving African American and low-income youth across four school districts in Multnomah County. The program offers academics with certified teachers in the morning, focusing on math and language arts and reading, followed by enrichment and exposure activities in the afternoon.

For many students, summer learning might be their “first time to that river that literally could be only one mile from their house,” said Hicks. “That ocean, that architecture firm, that Portland airport that they've never seen before.”

House Bill 4082 also holds “particular significance for Native communities,” wrote William Miller, Executive Director of the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) Action Fund in Portland. “By increasing knowledge of cultural traditions and practices, summer learning programs can serve as invaluable tools for fostering a deeper connection to one's cultural background. This not only enhances individual well-being but also contributes to the preservation and revitalization of Indigenous cultures.”

Testimonials from youth and families gave legislators an especially personal window into the value of summer learning.

“It gives me a chance to have just the right resources and support to be the most successful and hard-working version of my student self that I can be,” wrote one student about their experience in Latino Network’s summer and after-school programming.

"House Bill 4082 would help all students learn and connect across cultures. Our students need to have stronger human and social connections,” wrote Elisa Santos of Beaverton. Her daughter is a middle school student participating in Adelante Mujeres’ Chicas youth development program, a summer and after-school opportunity for Latine youth in Washington County emphasizing social and emotional learning and college readiness. Santos’ letter was one of a dozen submitted by mothers involved with Adelante Mujeres.

A student at REAP, Inc.'s summer learning program in 2021. Photo by James Tolliver.
A student at REAP, Inc.'s summer learning program in 2021. Photo by James Tolliver.

The Power of School-Community Partnerships

House Bill 4082 urges school districts to partner with tribes and community-based organizations who hold deep trust with youth and families and can uniquely deliver culturally responsive summer programs in safe and joyful environments. This approach ensures summer learning will benefit all students and meaningfully fulfill the needs of students underserved by Oregon’s public education system, including students of color, tribal students, English language learners, LGBTQ2SIA+ students, students navigating poverty, students experiencing disability, and students from rural communities.

“School districts alone cannot and should not be expected to support the complex needs of our students and families,” said Mark Jackson, Executive Director of REAP, Inc., a community-based organization serving youth across ten school districts in Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, and Columbia counties.

“Before students were ever exposed to public education, they were embraced and supported by their families and their communities,” continued Jackson, who also serves as co-chair of the Governor’s Racial Justice Council. “This value does not diminish over time, but increases in value in partnership with schools.”

“Ditto,” said Carl Thomas, Executive Director of Project Youth+, as he began his testimony. In heartfelt remarks that visibly moved state legislators at the dais, Thomas described working with students in Josephine, Jackson, and Douglas counties who experienced the impacts of gun violence, addiction, and even human trafficking.

“Their needs don't end at the end of the school day. Their needs don't end at the end of the school year,” said Thomas. “We'd like to keep our eyes on our kids and help them and encourage them. I can tell you, I was one of those kids.”

School district leaders from La Grande to Klamath Falls also spoke in support of House Bill 4082, affirming the importance of supporting school-community partnerships. Statewide associations representing Oregon educators, school board members, school district administrators, and education service districts are also rallying support for the legislation. 

When school districts build authentic and meaningful partnerships with community-based organizations to provide summer learning, the results are clear. “I have personally watched kids who ‘have a chip on their shoulder’ and do not want to participate in any activities, kids who have not felt safe, now shine with confidence,” read one testimonial from a district administrator at North Wasco School District. The district collaborates with Arts in Education of the Gorge, a community-based organization providing summer learning and after-school programs focused on performing, literary, visual, and media arts to underserved students throughout the Columbia River Gorge.

The House chamber at the Oregon State Capitol.
The House chamber at the Oregon State Capitol.

Building Toward the Future

For years, Oregon’s piecemeal approach to summer learning has left youth, families, school districts, community-based organizations, and tribes guessing.

“The uncertainty around summer learning funding makes it difficult for our leaders to plan and provide stable program offerings over time, and makes it challenging to recruit and secure staff, as well as affirm our partnerships,” said Parasa Chanramy, Legislative Director for the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators, at Monday’s House Education Committee hearing. “It makes it hard to communicate with families and community partners about what summer programming will be available and to whom.”

Now, just as House Bill 4082 seeks to expedite funding for summer learning this year, state and community leaders also want to chart a clear path forward beyond 2024.

Rep. Susan McLain, an educator and longtime champion for summer learning, said House Bill 4082 will convene an inclusive task force charged with creating a “more stable and a more equitable summer learning plan” for the future. According to Rep. McLain, the group’s charge will include recommendations for a sustainable funding mechanism, equitable access, programmatic best practices, streamlined grant administration, robust data collection, and high accountability standards. 

The work group’s recommendations can set Oregon on a bold path to a whole-community approach for public education. “We must work towards a vision where districts, community organizations, tribes, and local governments, including parks and public libraries, are working as fully equal partners to support students’ academic growth, positive youth development, and equitable access to programs that reduce opportunity gaps,” said Bhatt, the governor’s education policy advisor. 

That vision is closely in line with community hopes and children’s needs. “Children do not only learn at school—they're learning at home as well as in their community,” said Patricia Alvarado, Director of Education Programs at Adelante Mujeres. “Culturally responsive organizations are the bridge between schools and families, and we empower parents and youth to be active members of their community.”

With the power of community voice and advocacy on full display at Monday’s public hearing, the House Education Committee experienced firsthand the importance of giving community members time, space, and voice in the public policymaking process. Two days later, House Bill 4082 earned the unanimous bipartisan support of the House Education Committee. Advocates and supporters will now begin engaging the Oregon Legislature’s Joint Committee on Ways and Means, which holds the state’s purse strings and will consider the legislation’s $50 million funding request.

“I’m really grateful for this bill,” said Rep. Emily McIntire, a member of the House Education Committee, just before the committee’s final vote on House Bill 4082. “I’m hoping we as a Legislature will prioritize this and make sure that we have permanent funding for summer [learning] going forward.”