At State Budget Hearings, OPEJ Urges Equitable Investment

The Oregon Partners for Education Justice ask lawmakers to build on the Student Success Act and invest in a public education system that works for all.

Spring at the Oregon State Capitol.
Spring at the Oregon State Capitol.

As the Oregon Legislature drafts the next state budget, the Oregon Partners for Education Justice (OPEJ)—a statewide, cross-cultural network of over 20 community-based organizations and education advocates—are urging lawmakers to build on the promise of the Student Success Act and invest in a public education system that works for all.

During budget hearings, OPEJ members are telling state legislators that the 2021-23 state education budget must include ongoing and new investments in culturally responsive, trauma-informed, and equity-driven programs and services. They also asked lawmakers to fully fund the Student Success Act and ensure school districts meaningfully engage and listen to historically underserved children and families when deciding how all state resources are being spent to meet diverse needs at the local level.

Learn more about OPEJ’s budget priorities in the coalition’s joint letter to the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education. You can also read powerful highlights from OPEJ partners’ virtual testimony below.

To ensure OPEJ’s budget priorities are included in the 2021-23 state budget, contact your state legislators today. Ask them to support the investments outlined in the Oregon Partners for Education Justice 2021 Legislative Agenda. These investments will be critical to supporting children and families who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, and advancing a more inclusive, equitable, and racially just education system.

These highlights have been edited for length and clarity.

Ensure Schools Engage Underserved Communities to Make Equitable Investments

The Oregon Legislature has the crucial responsibility to ensure that all students are successful in their educational goals—especially the ones from communities harshly affected by the pandemic. … In our organization’s Chicas program, we have seen firsthand the disparities that exist in our education system for Latina youth. Our participants come from a diverse pool of Latinx families that include new immigrants as well as first-, second-, or third generation in this country. Most of our participants speak English as their second or third language, and their families are learning how to navigate the education system in our state.  

Strategic community engagement initiated by school districts is essential to understand the unique strengths and opportunities of our Latinx students and families. School districts need to work in partnership with students, families, and community-based organizations to make decisions about their local budget and expenses based on the support that students and families need.

-Patricia Alvarado, Adelante Mujeres

In deciding how to invest state and federal resources, it’s critical that we not presume to know what every community needs, but rather engage with those who are experiencing disparities firsthand. As legislators, you can ensure that leaders at all levels commit to using the expertise of our underserved children and families, and the educators and community partners who support them. The Student Success Act’s Student Investment Account provides a template for quality engagement that builds community resiliency, ensures our schools are more inclusive and effective, and unlocks solutions that can accelerate progress for all Oregon’s children.

-Whitney Grubbs, Foundations for a Better Oregon

Fully Fund the Student Success Act and Statewide Equity Plans

The passage of the Student Success Act in 2019 was a victory for our communities to see a different outcome for their futures. As we see schools transition to the hybrid model, students will arrive in an environment that is unprepared for the accumulated stress, trauma, and experiences they carry with them from the pandemic. It is critical that we provide support to all students, especially BIPOC students who are historically underserved and are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. ...  We strongly recommend that the Legislature invest in these community-driven priorities by fully funding the Student Success Act.

-Lanea Olson, APANO

In 2019, we passed the Student Success Act, which was an important first step in making investments that addressed the serious inequities in our education system. Now it is time for the Legislature to continue this work towards equity in education by investing in our students and ensuring that funds are targeted. Oregon has never served our Black and Brown children and families at the level it ought to, and we must invest intentionally to support their success. 

A key component of remedying these inequities is increasingly partnering with communities who have been historically and are currently marginalized. The Coalition of Communities of Color’s member organizations serve a diverse array of students and families and with the Statewide Equity Plans—the Black/African American Student Success Plan, the Latino/a/x Student Success Plan, and the American Indian/Alaska Native Student Success Plan—we are able to invest in community intentionally.

-Elona Wilson, Coalition of Communities of Color

Invest in a Stronger, Equitable, and Culturally Responsive Early Childhood System

Children ages 0-5 are the most racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse Oregonians, and they are the group of Oregonians most likely to live in poverty. Children born during this pandemic will be entering kindergarten just as we’ve been predicted to climb out of the recession.

The decisions that you make to fund early care and education at this time will impact the trajectory of their lives, and Oregon’s future. Supporting children’s development requires a comprehensive early childhood system, that includes early learning, child care, and support for families. We can’t pick one piece or another—it’s the combination that works, and we need to make progress on all fronts.

-Dana Hepper, Children’s Institute

I’m part of the team of Spanish-speaking professionals who share the life experience of the community we serve. We implemented our wonderful virtual parent-led preschool program this year with the help of the Early Learning Childhood Equity Fund and the Marion Polk Early Learning Hub. Parents and children in this program are so happy and engaged because it’s in Spanish and reflects their culture.

Remember that early learning success includes parenting success and family success. And their success is Oregon’s success. We can’t thank you enough for the transformation that has happened with early learning in Oregon directly because of the Early Learning Hubs and equity-focus in all areas. Please don’t make any budget cuts.

-Yadira Juarez, Salem Keizer Coalition for Equality

Community-based organizations bring valuable human, social, and financial resources to our education system. Nonprofits like Latino Network play an integral role in the personal and academic lives of our youngest children and families. The Early Childhood Equity Fund makes this possible. Latino Network programs are designed to ensure that the Latinx community has access to programming that is responsive to our cultural and linguistic assets and skills. Latino Network’s Juntos Aprendemos (Together We Learn), which is funded by equity investments, supports parents as a child’s first teacher and prepares children for success in kindergarten and beyond.

-Anthony Castaneda, Latino Network

Support Existing and Urgent New Equity Investments

Some of our top priorities are advancing equity and centering students. We believe that in the education budget, these values should be reflected. ... This includes investing in supporting Senate Bill 744, to review Oregon’s diploma requirements, and investing in House Bill 2368, for culturally responsive, trauma-informed mental health and behavioral health services and interventions. Investing in these bills, programs, and plans will help support and center students, especially as we are transitioning back to in-person learning. By investing in students and our education system, you’re investing in our future. 

-Audrie Fox, Oregon Student Voice

We must invest in a public education system that works for all students. This includes attending to the academic, behavioral, and social and emotional needs of students that are a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and school closure. All students and families have been impacted, but an extra burden has been felt by families with children experiencing disability. Students experiencing disability have some of the worst disparities in academic access and outcomes. 

But there is momentum for change—momentum I have not felt in my 28 years in disability advocacy. Thank you for your efforts to address diploma pathways, suspension and expulsion, and the professional development necessary to implement Ethnic Studies, which we hope will increase disability awareness on our campuses. We ask on behalf of the 82,000 students experiencing disability that you prioritize adequate funding to ensure students experiencing disability are set on a trajectory for school success, graduation, employment, and whole full lives in their communities. 

-Roberta Dunn, FACT Oregon

We value the importance of community-driven equity work, and it is very important that these budget recommendations, including investments in the Early Childhood Equity Fund, the Student Success Act, Summer Learning Grants for Title I Schools, and the Educator Advancement Council, move forward in order to be able to support our students with different needs in order to achieve equitable and successful outcomes.

-Roberto Gamboa, EUVALCREE