Solid Strides is a nonprofit program in south Eugene with the overarching goal of getting kids access to horses, particularly kids in historically underserved populations. This will be the program’s third summer hosting a summer camp series, according to Executive Director Katie Ebbage.
Kids K-12 are welcome, with each age group attending the summer camp for four days. During the camps, students learn about topics like horses’ lifestyle and nutrition, parts of the horse and receive in-the-saddle training when appropriate. Their first year, Solid Strides camps were free. Last year, they were $10 per student. This year, Ebbage says the camps will cost $300 per student, discounted 50 percent for kids on free and reduced lunch.
“It feels really inaccessible to the kids who don’t have resources,” she says, “which is kind of antithetical to our whole mission.”
Summer programs can help working families with child care and give students without resources access to activities that might otherwise be out of their reach.
For the last two years, the Oregon Legislature has allocated funding to summer learning programs. In 2021, $200 million was provided to schools and education service districts (ESDs), and $40 million to community-based organizations, like Solid Strides, that provide summer programs. In 2022, $100 million was allocated to schools and ESDs, and $50 million to community-based organizations. Funding has not yet been allocated to summer learning programs for 2023.
“Despite the broad support for investments in summer learning and enrichment over the past two years and our advocacy for this year, it doesn’t appear there is the needed legislative support to give you that certainty and the time you need to plan summer programming,” Director of Department of Education Colt Gill writes in a letter to community partners.
Now, community-based organizations, grants programs and educational collaborations are scrambling as they figure out how to move forward.
Last year, state funds were administered to community-based organizations through the Oregon Community Summer Grants (OCSG) initiative by Oregon Association of Education Service Districts (OAESD). According to an OCSG report, the grants allowed community-based organizations to host 6,133 individual summer programming opportunities and serve almost 240,000 kids.
OAESD and OregonASK, a collaboration that publishes research and reporting about afterschool and summer learning, are continuing to advocate for summer funding and keeping community-based organizations in the loop on where things stand in the state Legislature.
Beth Unverzagt, executive director of OregonASK, says that this year’s lack of funding for summer programs is in part about priorities in the Legislature.
“There’s just a lack of understanding around the needs of working families, which has become really apparent,” Unverzagt says. “We were a child care desert before, but now it’s even worse.”
According to a survey of last year’s OSCG recipients, without funding this year, 85 percent of the responding community-based organizations will serve fewer kids than last year, 73 percent will offer fewer summer programs than last year and 20 percent will not be able to offer summer programming this year at all.
Even if some kind of funding does come through, Ebbage says that at this point, she won’t see it until well into the summer. No matter what happens now, this summer’s programming, and many kids’ ability to participate in it, has been impacted.
“It’s really difficult to make any decisions and do any planning. And then, in addition, how many programs just don’t run?” Ebbage says. “Or how many kids who are maybe under-resourced or have some barriers just don’t get to participate in summer programs?”
This story was developed as part of the Catalyst Journalism Project at the University Of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. To learn more visit CatalystJournalism.uoregon.edu.