Why does Oregon need licensed outdoor preschool?
Outdoor Preschool is Accessible
It’s official: there’s a severe shortage of preschool options in Oregon. There’s currently only capacity to serve 1 in every 3 young children who need child care throughout the state, and with physical space for child care centers limited, outdoor preschool provides an alternative that could help close that gap.
Providing a path to licensure for outdoor preschools would allow existing outdoor preschools to operate for full days and serve more children. It would help increase the state’s capacity for child care by offering an alternative, accessible option for parents who need full-day care but are currently unable to access it.
Outdoor Preschool is Affordable
In Oregon, the average annual cost of child care is over $14,000, twice as expensive as public university tuition. Though both the state and federal governments offer childcare subsidies and waivers to help offset the costs of childcare, less than 1 in 5 Oregon children who qualify are actually enrolled in programs that accept these subsidies. When combined with the shortage of available preschool options throughout the state, many Oregon families aren’t able to find an affordable solution to childcare, and our kids are the ones being left behind.
Outdoor preschools operate without the high costs associated with building rent and maintenance, utilities, etc. That means these schools can operate at a fraction of the cost of traditional indoor preschools and pass those savings onto families. Lowered expenses mean that outdoor preschools can also invest more money where it really matters: on hiring and retaining quality teachers and instructors to help facilitate your child’s early learning.
Outdoor Preschool is Equitable
Offering parents the power to choose where to send their children for preschool is a matter of equity. While several outdoor preschools already operate around the state, they aren’t able to meet licensure requirements that were specifically designed with indoor spaces in mind. (For example, it’s hard to ensure there aren’t insects in the child’s play area when the play area is a forest!)
No licensure option means these preschools can only operate for half days, and they are unable to accept state or federal child care waivers. This translates to outdoor preschools in Oregon being unavailable for families who rely on waivers to pay for childcare, or who need to work full days and are unable to afford only half-day care.
What’s the Solution?
In 2017, Washington passed SB 5357. This bill established a four year pilot project during which outdoor preschools would be able to operate for full days while working with state agencies and lawmakers to establish a path to licensure for outdoor preschools. This bill addressed the same regulatory challenges that Oregon outdoor preschools face, and so we propose that Oregon pass an analogous bill in 2019.