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Kimberly Porter, director of Maternal Health & Early Childhood Parent Engagement at the Black Parent Initiative, has been involved in developing the Early Childhood Equity Fund for the past two years. (photo from BPI’s Facebook page)
By Saundra Sorensen For The Skanner News
Published: 20 June 2019

When the Oregon Legislature approved House Bill 3427 last month, they simultaneously passed the $20 million Early Childhood Equity Fund. First outlined in last year’s House Bill 4066, the fund was later folded into the Student Success Act.

“The fund is intended to go out directly to the community-based organizations, and tribes, who qualify for the funds by providing culturally specific services,” Amanda Manjarrez, Director of Advocacy at Latino Network and one of HB 4066’s lead authors, told The Skanner. “That means programs that are created by and for the community they serve, particularly with people of color.”

“That means programs that are created by and for the community they serve, particularly with people of color.

“The difference is that in culturally specific organizations, the leadership is reflective of the community served,” Kimberly Porter, director of maternal health & early childhood parent Engagement at the Black Parent Initiative, told The Skanner. “With the work that we do, we don’t have to start from step one. We already look like the people we’re serving, we probably have the same history -- we just might be a bit more savvy in how to navigate the system. One thing I’ve heard from our families, it’s a comfort when they come in. They say, ‘When we tell our stories we know that you believe us, because you’ve experience it yourself.’”

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BPI has a specific focus on early childhood care, with programs to support African American families from preconception to kindergarten. Porter said that because the national maternal mortality rate for Black mothers is four times higher than any other group, “early childhood” is identified much earlier.

Communities of colors don’t have all the same issues, and no community is monolithic

“Communities of colors don’t have all the same issues, and no community is monolithic,” Porter said. “The Black community doesn’t have the same issues as the Latino or Native American community. We all have unique needs for the families we serve, under the early childhood umbrella.”

During a work session for HB 4066 last year, Sadie Feibel, director of Early Childhood and Family Engagement at the Latino Network, outlined the financial obstacles for such programs.

Accessing State Funding, Financial Obstacles

“Currently, our state funding for early childhood is very restricted by statute to specific program models, such as Head Start, relief nurseries, healthy families, etc.,” Feibel testified. “And while these programs are fantastic, these statutory restrictions create barriers for culturally specific organizations to access state early childhood funding. When we look at our under-five population, we know that in five counties across our state, the majority of those kids are kids of color. And yet our organizations that are led by those same communities face these institutional barriers.”

Porter agreed.

“These funds have been available but haven’t been directly impacting commies most qualified to serve,” she told The Skanner. “With this particular bill, the funding would actually go directly to these culturally specific organizations. This will help us become more sustainable and continue to serve more folks that we haven't been able to tap into.”

With this particular bill, the funding would actually go directly to these culturally specific organizations.

Manjarrez described the difficulty the Latino Network previously experienced in accessing state funding.

“We had this recognition in our organization that while we have these incredible early childhood programs, the state had never invested in them,” Manjarrez told The Skanner. “We’re not necessarily a preschool or Headstart program. We needed to create a new avenue to open up those investments, and it’s true for other organizations who also provide culturally specific services.”

Children of Color Lag in Many Literacy Metrics

According to a report released by the Oregon Community Foundation and Portland State University’s Center for Improvement of Child and Family Services, children of color lag behind their White counterparts in many literacy metrics, with only 25% of African American students, and 28% of Latino students, meeting reading proficiency expectations in the third grade. By comparison, 54% of their White classmates test at reading proficiency level.

The brief noted that culturally specific organizations are essential in reducing this disparity.

“We absolutely need funding for culturally specific early learning programs, and if we’re serious about closing the opportunity and achievement gaps in Oregon, this is the perfect starting place,” Karen Twain, assistant superintendent of the Tigard-Tualatin School District, said

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