Over the last two years, Village Childcare Enterprises in Oregon has received over $600,000, designed to service 33 preschoolers from low-income families in 2020-2021, and 20 preschoolers in 2021-2022. During that time, though, the center reported fewer than ten students enrolled in the program.
Rather than an anomaly, the experience of Village Childcare Enterprises is just one example of millions of dollars that has been given to early learning facilities in Oregon—even when they have sat empty or with just a fraction of available spaces filled.
Oregon’s Preschool Promise program was launched in 2016 in order to provide publicly funded preschool to families 200% below the federal poverty limit. The Oregon Department of Education’s Early Learning Division awards “slots” to childcare facilities—each one representing one student and being worth approximately $14,000.
Over the last two school years, nearly $90 million has been doled out from the Oregon Department of Education through Preschool Promise grants – with just over 2,100 students enrolled in the program in February 2021, and just over 3,300 students enrolled in the program in February 2022.
All Families Welcome was awarded 18 slots for Preschool Promise students in both 2020-2021, when no students were enrolled. In 2021-2022, just one student was enrolled. Despite this, the center was paid nearly $300,000 one year, and more than $220,000 the next year..
Education Explorers was awarded 12 spots in 2020-2021, and 10 spots in 2021-2022, but had no more than two students enrolled. The center, though, was paid $150,000 one year, and $74,000 another year.
Neighborhood House was awarded 36 slots both years, but had fewer than 10 students enrolled. They were awarded $448,000 in the 2020-2021 school year, and $370,000 in the 2021-2022 school year.
A spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Education told Fox News Digital that the funding for Preschool Promise is largely tied to fixed costs – such as staffing, utilities and facilities, and that centers “require that programs be ready to serve eligible families as soon as they are referred, which means programs must be prepared at all times to serve the full number of funded slots.”
“In other words, programs cannot delay serving referred children while they hire more staff or move to bigger facilities; the lion’s share of the funding helps them remain prepared to accept referred children immediately,” the spokesperson said.
Jeff Myers of Save Oregon Schools alerted Fox News Digital to the funding discrepancy, and called out the Oregon Department of Education for their lack of transparency in the funding of the program.
“On ELD’s website they claim to have served 3,756 children in the 2021-22 school year, but that’s not true at all. According to the public records they eventually provided, they did have room for 3,756 children across 268 providers, but the actual number of enrolled children was 3,313,” he told Fox News Digital.
The Finch Academy was awarded grants for 36 children in the Preschool Promise program – but had no students enrolled in the program in the 2020-2021 school year, and only one student enrolled in the 2021-2022 school year.
Delorie Finch, owner of The Finch Academy, blamed the Oregon Department of Education’s Early Learning Division, which administers Preschool Promise, for not having the slots filled.
“We have been told that we need to accept the students… we were also told that we would be given the students,” she told Fox News Digital.
Finch said her center is licensed for 40 students, and the Finch Academy is ready to accept that number of students. But, with 36 slots reserved for Preschool Promise students, Finch said she has been forced to turn away paying customers, keeping the slots open for the Preschool Promise students that “never come.”
“The fact that we don’t have these children to service is offending to me, it’s offending to my staff,” she said. “This might be the week that they send two or three kids over, but then they never show up.”
“Helping these children is something that is near and dear to my heart. This is a privilege for me to be able to work with children regardless of their socioeconomic status. Our mission is to provide every child with a safe and loving environment in which to strengthen their moral, academic, social, mental and physical foundation in order to thrive in an ever-changing world,” she added.
According to the Department of Education’s website, grantees must “participate in the regional Early Learning Hub coordinated enrollment process,” but “only enroll families selected through the local Coordinated Enrollment Process administered by Early Learning Hubs.”
In the midst of these lower than expected numbers, the Early Learning Division told Fox News Digital it is reviewing its procedures.
“The Early Learning Division is examining protocols to review enrollment and direct programs to reduce operations until enrollment increases. This protocol was not in place in 21-23 as we tried to mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on families and the slow return to childcare due to safety concerns, but it is in discussion for future implementation. Currently, under-enrolled programs are required to reach 75% of enrollment by mid-program year,” the spokesperson said.