Early Learning

Early learning programs and services are viewed favorably, but Oregonians say finding high-quality, affordable child care is difficult.

From March 16-23, 2022, the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center conducted a statewide survey of Oregonians’ values and beliefs about services and policies that are commonly recommended for supporting Oregon children. The question numbers in this document correspond with the survey questionnaire (Q1–5, Q7, Q8, Q21, Q22).  

Investment in Learning Opportunities: What do Oregonians View as Important?

In providing a response of “very” or “somewhat important,” respondents agreed that these services were worthy of additional funding, whether by new revenue or cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Oregonians strongly believe there is value in investing in early learning opportunities for children with special needs or disabilities (Q5).

More than half of Oregonians say it is very important to provide early learning to children with disabilities to reduce the need for special education in the future (56%). In total, more than eight in ten Oregonians say this is somewhat or very important (86%).

A strong majority of Oregonians also support additional funding for parental education and high-quality early learning programs. Two-thirds of Oregonians say these policies are somewhat or very important (68% each) (Q3, Q4).

While these programs and services are popular among Oregonians, fewer than half of residents say they are very important (39%, 40%), making them second-tier priorities.

Oregonians with school-aged children at home are significantly more likely than residents without to say that parental education is somewhat or very important (73% to 66%) (Q3). This is the only significant difference between these groups when it comes to the four programs and services considered.

Making childcare more affordable for families is of similar import to Oregonians, who believe this would help children get a strong start in life (Q2).

More than half of Oregonians say they strongly support additional funding for childcare to get kids started off on the right foot (56%). And, in total, about eight in ten Oregonians say this is somewhat or very important (79%).   

Differences by Gender and by Income

Women are more likely than men to express strong support for using taxpayer funds to bolster early learning and childhood programs and services. Lower-income residents are also more supportive (Q2–5).  

Women are five to eight percentage points more likely than men to say that each program or service tested is important and thus deserving of more taxpayer funding.  

  • For example, whereas 86% of women say that it is somewhat or very important to provide early education to children with disabilities, 78% of men agree. 

The contrast between the responses of women and men is stark. While 63% of women say that providing early education to kids with disabilities is very important, 49% of men agree.  

Oregonians with household incomes of $50,000 per year or less are typically the most likely income bracket to support additional funding for these early childhood programs and policies, by a margin of five to 12 percentage points. 

There was one exception: high-quality early learning programs for infants and toddlers to start developing school-ready knowledge and social skills. For this policy, 65–70% of residents in each income group supported investment, representing no statistically significant difference.  

Head Start and Oregon Pre-Kindergarten Viewed Very Favorably

Oregonians have very positive impressions of both Head Start and its Oregon companion, Oregon Pre-Kindergarten (OPK) (Q7, Q8).

More than half of residents have a very positive impression of each program, although Head Start receives slightly higher marks (55%, 51%). Overall, more than eight in ten residents have somewhat or very positive impressions of each program (86%, 81%)(Q7, Q8). 

Oregonians with incomes of less than $50,000 per year are significantly more likely to hold positive impressions of both Head Start and OPK.  

  • For Head Start, 87% of lower-income Oregonians have a positive view, compared to 82-83% for other groups (Q7).  
  • For OPK, 86% of lower-income Oregonians have a positive view, compared to 78–79% of lower-income groups (Q8).  

Although Head Start and OPK are broadly popular among Oregon residents, about one-quarter of social conservatives have a negative impression of these early education programs (23%, 28%) (Q7, Q8).  

  • Economic conservatives share essentially identical opinions (23%, 27%).  
  • By way of comparison, 11% of moderates have negative impressions of each of these programs, along with 4% and 2% of social liberals, respectively. 

Finding Affordable, High-Quality Childcare is Too Difficult

A strong majority of Oregonians—with and without children—agree that finding affordable, high-quality childcare is difficult in the state. Just 7% of residents say it is somewhat easy to secure good childcare that is affordable (Q21).  

About three-quarters of Oregonians say it is somewhat or very difficult to find affordable, quality childcare (72%). Among these residents, 40% describe it as very difficult.  

Those with school-aged children in the home are even more likely to describe childcare access as difficult (80% to 69% for those without). People without school-aged children at home are more likely to say they aren’t sure whether finding good, affordable childcare is difficult or not (25% to 11%).  

Oregonians believe it is somewhat easier to find after-school programs and activities for school-aged children, although six in ten say this, too, is difficult (60%) (Q22).

Oregonians are 13 percentage points more likely to say that finding quality, affordable after-school programs is fairly easy, as compared to finding childcare (20% to 7%). Residents with school-aged children in the home and those without are equally likely to say finding these types of after-school programs is fairly easy (20%, 19%).  

Economic conservatives and young adults are more likely to believe it can be fairly easy to find affordable childcare or after-school programs (Q21, Q22).  

Economic conservatives are more likely to describe finding affordable childcare as somewhat easy (12%, compared to 4% and 7% for liberals and moderates) (Q21).  

When it comes to after-school programs, one-quarter of economic conservatives say they are somewhat easy to find (25%, compared to 16% and 19% for liberals and moderates) (Q22).  

Less Support for Funding Early Learning Compared to Other Age Groups

When asked to prioritize an age group for the distribution of taxpayer dollars, 9% of Oregonians rate early education, from birth to age 5, as most important. Only 4-year colleges and universities are rated “most important” by fewer Oregonians (8%), with K-12 receiving the most support (56%, combined) (Q1). 

Respondents were given the opportunity to comment about the most important levels of education. Many express difficulty choosing one age group over another. Those that specifically address early education often mention the role of early learning and development in future success: 

“Early development programs are so necessary to lay a good foundation of positive neural pathways. They also tend to connect community supports to families who need them the most. Kids who enter kindergarten without trauma are better learners for the rest of their education.” 

Woman, age 30-44, Tillamook County, Asian or Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latina/x, and White

“All of the levels are important. But, if children don’t have proper nutrition, start learning preschool skills, it sets them up for struggle all of the way through.” 

Woman, age 55-64, Washington County, Black or African American 

“All of the levels are important. But, if children don’t have proper nutrition, start learning preschool skills, it sets them up for struggle all of the way through.” 

Woman, age 55-64, Washington County, Black or African American 

“Seems to me it’s more important for children to have a solid foundation.”

Man, age 30-44, Deschutes County, Hispanic/Latino/x and White 

“Frankly, I think it all matters. But infant and toddler care needs to be free. Fully free. Right now, people who can’t afford childcare are screwed. You can’t get a job without childcare and you can’t get childcare without the money from said job. Too poor for childcare means you are literally too poor to work. Bring back the free childcare of the 1940’s. We did it once. We can do it again.” 

Non-binary or gender non-conforming, age 18-29, Jackson County, White 

“Early childhood development is crucial for the success of children at school and in life.” 

Man, age 30-44, Douglas County, White 

“What happens in pre-K is MOST important, and I think of those years as les education and more in terms of overall welfare: healthcare, nutrition, family security and stability, etc.” 

Woman, age 75+, Multnomah County, White 

Demographic Trends

Identifying what unites us, understanding what divides us.

Reported below are statistically significant subgroup differences between BIPOC and white Oregonians, urban and rural Oregonians, and age groups.  Many of these differences are not major and are presented to inform public education and communications initiatives.   

Oregonians under the age of 45 are more likely than their older peers to say that early childhood policies deserve more taxpayer funding (Q2–5).  

  • When it comes to providing early education to children with disabilities or special needs, 88% of residents under the age of 30 say that taxes should be raised or reallocated to further support this priority. This includes 72% of people under 30 who feel strongly about the issue (Q5).  
  • Oregonians ages 30 to 44 are about as likely as their older peers to say early education for children with disabilities is important overall (82%, to 79–83% for older age groups). However, those 30 to 44 are significantly more likely to say it is a very important priority (60%, to 43–55% for older age groups).  
  • Both residents under 30 and those 30 to 44 are significantly more likely than their older peers to believe that providing affordable childcare is an important priority (89% and 85%, compared to 70–78% for older groups) (Q2).  

Oregonians under 30 are more likely to believe that finding affordable, high-quality programs can be easy (Q21-22).

  • 12% say it is somewhat easy to find affordable childcare (compared to 4–8% for other age groups) and 27% say it is somewhat easy to find affordable after-school programs (compared to 13–20% for other age groups).  

  • BIPOC Oregonians place a greater emphasis on affordable childcare and parent education and home visits (Q2, Q3).  
  • Nearly three-quarters of BIPOC residents support additional taxpayer funding for voluntary home visits and parental education programs to help kids thrive (72%, compared to 66% for white Oregonians) (Q3).  
  • Additionally, more than eight in ten BIPOC Oregonians support additional investments to make childcare affordable for families (84%, compared to 76% for white Oregonians) (Q2).  
  • When it comes to early learning programs for infants, toddlers, and children with disabilities, there is no difference in support for taxpayer funding between BIPOC and white Oregonians (Q4, Q5).  

  • Urban Oregonians are more supportive of spending taxpayer dollars on early childhood policies than rural Oregonians (Q2–5).  
  • Urban residents are consistently more likely to say that early childhood programs and services are important to fund with taxpayer dollars as compared to rural residents.  
  • The smallest difference between these groups pertains to early learning for children with disabilities (86% to 80%). The largest difference is in response to home visits and parent education programs (77% to 62%).  
  • These differences track closely with differences in opinion by ideology. Social liberals are consistently more likely to support taxpayer funding for these programs and services as compared to social conservatives. Notably, the differences between these two groups (+16 to +28 percentage points), although statistically significant, are much smaller than the differences between liberals and conservatives on other political issues.  

Methodology: The online survey consisted of 1,563 Oregon residents ages 18+ and took approximately 15 minutes to complete. Respondents were contacted by using professionally maintained online panels. In gathering responses, a variety of quality control measures were employed, including questionnaire pre-testing, validation, and real-time monitoring of responses. To ensure a representative sample, demographic quotas were set, and data weighted by area of the state, gender, age, and education. 

Statement of Limitations: Based on a 95% confidence interval, this survey’s margin of error, for the full sample, ranges from ±1.1% to ±1.9%. Due to rounding, numbers may not add up to 100%. 

This survey uses aggregated data to analyze the opinions of BIPOC residents in comparison to the opinions of residents who identify as white and not another race. BIPOC residents are not a monolith; the grouping represents a wide diversity of races and ethnicities. The findings included in this memo should not be construed such that all people of color are believed to share the same opinions. Disaggregated race data will be provided when sample sizes permit reliability. 

This research was completed as a community service by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, an independent and non-partisan organization. OVBC is an Oregon charitable nonprofit corporation (https://oregonvbc.org).

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Analysis and Reporting by: Anne Buzzini