Oregon legislators have announced plans to spend $150 million on summer learning programs for the state’s students. The 2022 Summer Learning Package consists of grants through three programs aimed at K-8 enrichment, high school programs to help students stay on track to graduate, and grants for community organizations.

This is the second year of a state investment in summer learning to help students whose learning was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“This budget will support our students and teachers who have been through so much these last two years with increased stress from the pandemic,” said Rep. Susan McLain, D-Hillsboro, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education, in a press release announcing the grants.

“We are focused on ensuring our students can continue meeting in-person and that we are recruiting and retaining teachers so they have more time to give our kids the education they deserve.”

But school districts are already receiving federal funds through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund III, also known as the American Rescue Plan. Through that fund, Oregon received $1.1 billion, which has been allocated to school districts, though little of that federal money has been spent so far.

Staff and students at a 2021 summer program at NAYA, the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland.

Staff and students at a 2021 summer program at NAYA, the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland.

Elizabeth Miller / OPB

In Oregon and across the country, school districts plan to spend a portion of ESSER III funds on summer learning. Burbio, a national site tracking ESSER III spending in over 3,000 districts, finds 60% of districts plan to spend funds on summer programs.

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In Oregon, a review of over 30 district ESSER III spending plans found two-thirds of districts dedicating at least some funding toward summer programming. Some districts, like Estacada, plan to use any additional funding for summer to expand programming already planned for this summer.

In Eastern Oregon’s Umatilla School District, officials planned for this summer “with the hopes of state funding.” The district will continue to offer a summer school program, but officials say that additional funds can go toward field trips, college visits, and camps focused on STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and math.

“I am thrilled to see this level of support for extended learning for students,” said Umatilla Superintendent Heidi Sipe in an email to OPB.

In Forest Grove, district officials used ESSER III funds for summer programming last year, to meet a 25% match requirement in order to receive state funds. The district is waiting on guidelines around the state’s announcement before allocating any funding for this summer.

School education officials have been asking for another round of funding for summer programming this year, and state education officials and legislators have been listening. Last fall, the Oregon Department of Education released a Best Practices Guide that encouraged officials to “braid” federal money with other funding sources, “a strategy that ensures consistency, eliminates duplication of services, and allows districts to strategically direct federal grants, especially those that may not have been expended during the school year because of impacts due to COVID-19.”

In Lane County’s Springfield School District, officials “braided” funds as a way to “offer rich summer programming for our students while not tapping into lean existing general fund budgets,” said Springfield Chief Operations Officer Brett Yancey.

“Springfield students benefited greatly from the summer programming as reported by students, families and faculty,” said Yancey in an email to OPB. “We also believe the important course recovery and support options provided at our high schools contributed to the modest increase in graduation rates here in Springfield, even while the overall state saw a slight decline.”

Recent reports and surveys illustrated program gaps and ways to improve on last summer’s efforts. A recent survey of 1,770 sites around the state completed by OregonASK found summer program operators struggled to maintain adequate staffing, faced COVID-19 related challenges, all with a short planning timeline. There were also access issues, including for students with disabilities.

The Oregon Department of Education’s final report on summer learning grants for high school, K-5 child care, and K-8 enrichment, shows schools served over 108,000 students, though the programs had millions of dollars unspent.

The Oregon Community Foundation, which awarded a different grant, served over 350,000 students through both early childhood and K-12 programs. An OCF survey of 35 organizations that received grants reported increased opportunities for low-income families and support for students who had been out of school due to COVID-19. Survey respondents also noted increased staffing challenges, student and family needs, as well as the need for an “ongoing investment” in summer programming.

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