A majority of Oregonians say the state’s public schools should use their share of $1.1 billion in federal pandemic assistance to boost mental health supports, particularly for Black, Indigenous and other students of color and those from low-income households.
Those are the findings of a poll of 918 of the state’s residents by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, a nonprofit that conducts statewide surveys on a variety of topics.
Nearly 2 in 3 respondents rated mental health counseling among their three top priorities for coronavirus pandemic relief money. About 40% named it their No. 1 choice.
Fully 82% of the youngest adults polled, those age 18 to 29, put mental health counseling on their Top 3 lists.
Oregonians earning less than $50,000 per year were much more likely than those with higher incomes to name mental health services as a top spending priority, at 70%.
About 53% of respondents earning more than that said those programs should take precedence. Renters and homeowners were split on the issue along nearly the same lines, 71% to 52%.
Forty percent of respondents rated mentoring and tutoring services among their top three priorities, while 34% named vocational and job training.
Most Oregonians agreed broadly on the way schools should spend pandemic relief money, the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center said.
A majority said Black, Indigenous and other students of color, along with children from low-income households, should be prioritized in districts’ spending plans. While a majority of white Oregonians who responded — 54% — said this should be the case, nearly 2 in 3 of folks from other demographics said schools should put those students front and center.
Thirty-six percent of homeowners flat-out said neither Black, Indigenous and other children of color nor low-income students should be prioritized in those plans.
As protests against systemic racism unfolded across the state last summer, school districts pledged to better support students of color, particularly those from Black and Indigenous households.
Portland Public Schools officials said they would work to spare programs serving those students in the event of any coronavirus-induced budget cuts last March. The district also placed Jefferson High School, which enrolls the highest number of Black students in the state, ahead of other buildings for a massive renovation effort in its latest request for taxpayer-funded bonds.
In November, voters approved the measure, which also sprinkles about $60 million across schools in the surrounding Albina area to create a Center for Black Student Excellence.
Urban and rural residents also differed on their desire to see districts pump money into vocational programs. Forty-one percent of rural residents said schools should spend a big share of relief funds on jobs programs, compared to 27% of urban residents.
Rural residents were also less supportive of Black, Indigenous and other students of color getting priority in districts’ plans: 42%. Sixty-two percent of urban residents said those students should be a focus of their schools’ spending.
There was little support among respondents for districts to either extend the school year or use their pandemic relief money on summer programs, neither of which reached 10% of any demographic saying they should be a priority.
That may be because the Oregon Department of Education is already doling out nearly $300 million in state and federal money specifically to fund summer programming.
–Eder Campuzano | 503-221-4344 | @edercampuzano | Eder on Facebook
Eder is The Oregonian’s education reporter. Do you have a tip about Portland Public Schools? Email email@example.com.