In Short

More Oregon kids attend preschool but enrollment still among lowest in nation

By: - May 24, 2023 6:00 am
toddlers playing child care

Many people across Oregon are in child care deserts, with three or more children vying for each opening. (Getty Images)

More Oregonians have been enrolling their kids in preschool, and the state has spent more per child on preschool than most states, but the state has lagged in other areas.

A study released last week from the Rutgers University National Institute for Early Education Research in New Jersey found that more 3 year olds in Oregon were enrolled in preschool than their peers nationwide in 2022, but few 4 year olds were attending.

The university’s State of Preschool 2022 looks at preschool attendance, spending and policies over the past 20 years. It found that enrollment nationwide has more than doubled between 2002 and 2022 while spending per child has remained flat, and even dipped in Oregon. Nevertheless, Oregon is among the top states in the nation for investing in early childhood education, the study found. At the same time, it noted unprecedented teacher shortages across the country. In Oregon, the lack of teachers has curtailed access. 

Research shows that high-quality preschools can help shrink achievement gaps between students from low- and high-income families and, long-term, improve income and health outcomes for students from poor families. Oregon’s preschool enrollment has rebounded since the pandemic whereas nationwide attendance was 8% below pre-pandemic levels in 2022. That year about 10,000 children in Oregon were in preschool, an increase of about 1,000 from the previous year. They represented 9% of  3 year olds and 13% of  4 year olds in the state.

Nationwide, about one-third of all 4 year olds and 6% of all three-year olds were enrolled in preschool in 2022, the study found.

Researchers found that Oregon was among the top three states in the nation in funding. The state spent about $13,500 per child in preschool in 2022 compared to about $9,500 per child in K-12 public schools. The 2022 spending was about $1,000 per child less than in 2002 but marked an increase from a low of nearly $11,00 in 2016. 

The report said the state lacks standards for ensuring high-quality preschool teachers, and lacks adequate pay and incentives to recruit and retain enough high-quality staff. Preschool teachers do not need a degree to teach in Oregon, but are required to undertake some training. The average salary for a preschool teacher in Oregon is between $36,000 and $40,000 according to the U.S. Census Bureau, slightly above the national average of $35,000 but below averages in neighboring Washington and California, which are $10,000 to $20,000 higher. 

All but four states provide a state-funded preschool program for low-income families. Oregon has two such programs: Oregon Pre-Kindergarten and Preschool Promise. Only 11 states have a universal preschool policy providing funding for all kids to attend. 

Attempts to pass a universal preschool measure in Oregon during the past few years have failed. But in 2020, Multnomah County voters passed a local tax on the highest income earners to fund a preschool initiative offering free access for the county’s 3 and 4 year olds. 

During the 2022-23 school year, the measure funded 700 spots at 47 preschool programs around the county, according to the Multnomah County Department of Human Services.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post.