Hundreds of Oregon nonprofits barred from children’s summer program funds due to insurance requirement

Oregon school districts and large community organizations are looking towards a summer full of programming for children, thanks in part to a second year of state funds.

But hundreds of small community-based organizations across the state will likely be shut out from state summer funds because they can’t meet an insurance requirement.

The Oregon Association of Education Service Districts is overseeing the grant process this summer. Last week, they shared an update from Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill.

“For this summer, larger organizations that already carry or can obtain the necessary insurance to protect youth and the organizations will be able to access the summer enrichment funds. However, many smaller organizations will not be eligible this summer,” according to a June 2 update from Gil.

At a Senate education committee meeting on the same day as Gil’s update, OAESD officials shared that 320 applications were submitted so far for funding, but “very, very few applicants” have the required insurance. They include hundreds of organizations planning to serve youth of color, youth experiencing disabilities, children from rural communities, and children navigating poverty, homelessness, or foster care – all student groups the state has committed to serving, especially after years of disrupted learning.

Gil said state officials had been working to find a solution to allow “hundreds of CBOs and tribes to access affordable insurance options,” but coverage for these types of programs was unavailable, or would take too much time to process before the start of summer.

Last summer, the Oregon Community Foundation oversaw the distribution of $41 million in grant funds, but did not have the same issue. An FAQ document for this summer’s grant application process said applicants were asked if they had insurance, but verification was not required. According to the document, that approach placed organizations, and possibly the Oregon Community Foundation, at “greater risk.”

Without the opportunity for funding, some small organizations are trying to come up with other ideas, or scaling back original plans.

Eugene program may seek outside funding

Last summer, educator Nancy Willard was able to bring her donkeys to summer programs funded with state dollars. Her “Way of the Donkey” program is meant to teach students self-regulation and empowerment skills by interacting with the animals. This summer, she had plans to bring the donkeys to summer school but also scale up to hosting half-day, weeklong camps.

Willard says she’d been waiting, hopeful that there might be a solution to the insurance issue. Over the last month, OAESD shared a couple of updates, saying they were aware of the insurance issue and looking for solutions. Now, Willard isn’t sure her camp will be available to students.

“I’m now trying to figure out if there are other options for getting funding for the camp,” Willard said.

As a substitute teacher in the Eugene 4j School District, Willard said she sees a need for programs like hers. She worries about students who may not have access to robust programming.

“These kids need a whole bunch of summer activities, especially if you’re looking at programs that are providing support for the more challenged kids,” Willard said. “Families with money are going to be able to pay for their kids to go to child care programs.”

Salem nonprofit says agencies put up ‘huge, obvious, inequitable barriers’

In Salem, Oni Marchbanks leads the nonprofit Equity Splash. Marchbanks and Salem-Keizer school board member Satya Chandragiri have been planning a five-week youth program this summer focused around science, technology, engineering, art, and math, or STEAM, with guest speakers and students learning skills from experts, such as coding

Without access to state funds, Marchbanks said they’re still planning on starting the program in July, but with a “zero budget,” and no staff or laptops.

“It’s really disheartening when, no matter how many board meetings you sit in, no matter how many difficult conversations you have, no matter how many workshops you facilitate, no matter how many tears you cry, that agencies still put out these barriers, these huge, obvious, inequitable barriers to access for funding and opportunity for certain groups,” Marchbanks said.

Chandragiri said they have a local space to use for the program, but they will not be able to host as many kids.

“We’ll just have to rearrange and do something else for the kids,” Marchbanks said.

In his update shared last week, Gil said the insurance requirements are put in place to protect “children, families, and organizations”.

Willard, in Eugene, said rather than require insurance, the state could protect students by requiring organizations to do background checks on their staff, have clear policies and practices in place to prevent children from abuse or assault, and offer training to organizations.

“All of us who have been, sort of sitting, planning, waiting, hoping … just got dashed,” Willard said.

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