Bill written in part by COCC employees goes to state

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Submitted photo.
Submitted photo.

 

A community college childcare bill written by students and faculty at the college is currently in the February-March Oregon legislative session.

State lawmakers are looking over a bill that State Representative Jason Conger put together with help from Central Oregon Community College staff, faculty and students. House Bill 4084 would “direct Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development to administer grant programs,” according to the Oregon State Legislature. The website also specifies that the bill would “use programs for the purpose of distributing funds to community colleges to make child care services available to community college students.”

But before HB 4084 became a topic in the February-March legislative session, it was brought to life by a COCC task force.

COCC Childcare Task Force

In the spring of 2012, COCC convened a task force to look into childcare concerns on campus. The task force was sparked by numerous student concerns, according to Alicia Moore, the dean of students and Enrollment Services for COCC.

“We had a lot of students that thought it was a concern,” Moore said. “Overall, we found recommendations to show us the range of options we could consider if we decide to go down this pathway in the future.”

The report, which was published this November and released to the campus in February, showed several deficiencies with COCC’s childcare-friendly ranking. According to the report, while current programs like Paw Prints, Jump Start Family Fun Night and occasional family-friendly activities do incorporate elements of campus childcare, the number of services on-campus is limited.

The report cited studies like the National Vital Statistics Report – from the National Center for Health Statistics – that had found the average age for a person to have at least one child is 25.4 years old. According to Enrollment Services at the college, the median age of COCC credit-seeking students is 26.

Added to that, recent FAFSA data for Winter Term 2013 showed that out of the 79.5 percent of COCC students trying to apply for financial aid, 34.3 percent of those students noted that they had children. According to these studies, at the very least about 23 percent of COCC students are juggling college with the added task of raising children.

While even the lowest estimate is fairly high, the task force found that comparatively, Central Oregon Community College is not doing much to assist the high numbers of college parents.

ASCOCC set aside $15,000 in the 2006-2007 school year to help college parents with childcare, but while only 24 students were given grants out of the program, the program “proved cumbersome to administer,” according to the Childcare Task Force report, and was promptly defunded the next year.

Following the program’s failure, COCC ranks last in the state for a community college of its size to not post information about childcare options, according to public information from the state of Oregon. This is being fixed, according to Moore, but other issues are not being addressed.

For one, children on campus have stringent limitations on where they can be, or whom they can be with. COCC does not provide on-site childcare or subsidies for off-site childcare, and does not allow children under the age of 15 on campus or in classes without an instructor’s waiver or adult supervision. Some of these restrictions are healthy, according to Moore.

“You can imagine issues that may arise if every person who had a child brought that child to a classroom,” Moore said. “I think there are some classrooms where it’s just not appropriate to have children present. If you’re in a media class talking about sexuality and media, it’s probably not a great conversation to have children around.”

While the task force did find that several of COCC’s current restrictions had valid reasoning, the current childcare situation on campus still poses problems.

In a survey conducted by the Childcare Task Force with 411 respondents, 74.1 percent identified themselves as current parents, and 85 percent claimed that childcare on campus was a current concern.

While many students on campus voted childcare as being an issue, the current budgetary system at COCC would not readily implement a more hands-on solution, according to Moore.

“My understanding is nationally, childcare centers on campus don’t pay for themselves,” Moore said. “The cost of providing the services, and then the license requirements, and the insurance requirements and liability issues are so extreme that it is a financial hit to the institution. I don’t see that being a feasible option for COCC at this time.”

Although the campus itself does not anticipate allocating major funds any time soon, a COCC partnership with State Rep. Jason Conger might change the outlook for the campus and every community college in Oregon.

House Bill 4084

As COCC started their Childcare Task Force in 2012 to address concerns, two employees on campus began looking at childcare solutions: Taran Smith and Kurt Killinger. Killinger, the director of Legislative Affairs for COCC, and Smith, the director of Student Life, looked outside the campus for a funding source.

“Kurt Killinger and I drafted [House Bill 4084] with Jason Conger earlier this summer,” Smith said. “We came to the realization that it’s mostly a fiscal issue, and that most community colleges have only been successful when they partner with their state legislator finding general funds money.”

Smith and Killinger had mentioned the task force, and some of the results of the research to State Rep. Jason Conger, after which the local legislator came and asked Smith and Killinger to help draft a bill. The result, House Bill 4084, is now being discussed in the February-March legislative session, according to Smith.

“During the short session, this is one of the two bills that [Conger] proposed,” Smith said.

For Smith, there are two highlights about the status of the bill.

“It’s a matching program,” Smith said. “So it’s a one-time, $2 million allocation, and it’s not a continuous fund. Also, it’s the first bill that has ever made it out of committee for providing funding for childcare on campuses in the state of Oregon.”

As the bill is making its way through legislature, it has already gone through several steps. As of Feb. 16, the bill has gone through public hearings, work sessions and development referrals, and has been referred to the Ways and Means Committee. In the middle of that process, Smith and Killinger were able to give testimony from a COCC perspective at the initial legislative public hearing.

With the bill past the first hurdle, COCC staff have been gathering support. Smith has been working with Amy Howell, the director of Early Childhood Education at COCC, for childcare advocacy networks to lobby for the bill’s passage through Ways and Means.

Meanwhile, COCC’s chance of getting an on-campus childcare center is running against the clock. As of mid-February, the bill still had a number of rounds to make.

“The passage of [HB 4084] through the Ways and Means Committee is the next difficult hurdle,” Smith said. “That’s where money is actually allocated to it. That’s typically where a lot of bills cannot proceed.”

Whether or not the bill is approved this legislative session should be apparent in the next week, according to Smith. But the bill will still have to pass standard with multiple readings, review by committees, passage by both houses, approved amendments and a signature from the governor before it becomes more than a written paper. The pace should be fast, since the state constitution allows the session to last no more than 35 days.

Meanwhile, COCC faculty are finding ways to make it happen. Smith has been working with the Oregon Student Association, Oregon Community College Student Association, a child advocacy group and some other constituents to garner support.

“We’ve rounded up a variety of constituents that this would affect,” Smith said. “There’s also a women’s collective at Portland State University as well. So we’ve been working to get other entities involved in helping encourage this to go to the state legislature this season.”

If the bill does not meet with approval, childcare at COCC may continue to be a limited option for the future, according to Moore.

“When we have a tight budget we have to make hard choices,” Moore said. “We’re not in the financial position to put [on-campus childcare] into initiation.”
To check on the status of HB 4084 or see if it has been killed due to funding reasons, look on the Oregon State Capitol website at www.oregonlegislature.gov.

 

Junnelle Hogen
The Broadside

jhogen@cocc.edu

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