Landmark Trauma-Informed Education Bill Passes in Oregon

 

A landmark trauma-informed education bill to address “chronic absences of students” in the state’s public schools has passed the Oregon legislature and awaits the Governor’s signature. The bill, H.B. 4002, requires two state education agencies to develop a statewide plan to address the problem and provides funding for “trauma-informed” approaches in schools.

While the $500,000 funding level in the bill falls vastly short of the original $5.75 million request for five pilot sites in an earlier version (H.B. 4031), it provides a start to leverage additional funds in the future, including those available through the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, signed by President Obama in December. Both the Oregon bill and the federal law represent strong bi-partisan support for trauma-informed approaches in schools.

After months of work in the education community, a consensus developed in a short session of the legislature in support of a statewide plan to address absenteeism and a pilot for trauma-informed schools. Some argued for just the statewide plan, saying that more study of trauma-informed schools was needed. The legislature rejected that argument and sided with those who said the approach is well-studied and it is time to do something.

The definition of “trauma-informed approach” in the bill addresses trauma not just in students but also in families and staff and calls for the integration of the knowledge of trauma in policies, procedures and practices to reduce trauma and promote resiliency.

Multiple state agencies including the Chief Education Office, the Department of Education, and the Oregon Health Authority are designated in the bill to develop the statewide plan and the pilots by school districts and education service districts to implement trauma-informed policies and practices. The Chief Education Office is separate from other state education agencies and addresses learning across the age spectrum and coordinates the work of education-focused agencies and community partners.

Maureen Hinman, Policy Director of the Oregon School-Based Health Alliance, said a budget note clears the way for additional funds to be requested of the legislature later and that the $500,000 funding level supports the first year of a three-year pilot. She said her organization is “thrilled” with the bipartisan consensus around the bill. Earlier on ACEs Connection, Hinman said that the supportive testimony presented by a young person helped build momentum for the bill. Testimony was also presented on how the relatively small fiscal commitment could be leveraged to secure funding from other sources, including the federal Every Student Succeeds Act and foundations.

The Chief Education Office is convening a meeting on March 18 to begin the discussion of the design of the pilot(s) with state agencies and education stakeholders, according to Peter Tromba, Research and Policy Director of the office. Tromba, a former teacher and school principal, said the “brainstorming” session will include representatives of school districts, state agencies responsible for health, mental health, public health, and various organizations involved in the bill’s passage.

According to Tromba, efforts to improve absenteeism metrics will examine the data available on cohorts of children susceptible to dropping out—children in kindergarten who have experienced trauma (and their families) and don’t feel supported in school, and children in the 6th and 9th grades who are transitioning from elementary school to middle school to high school.

Governor Kate Brown is expected to sign the bill into law shortly. As described in the opinion piece by Doug Riggs with the Alliance4Kids in The Oregonian’s OREGONLIVE, her support for the approaches contained in the bill has been demonstrated by her personal involvement and that of her administration throughout the consensus-building process.

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I had the privilege to present to 7 individual regions in Oregon just a few weeks ago, that have joined together as a consortium to bring trauma-informed practices in their school districts. What is so exciting to me,  is that the movement is being led by the school superintendents, their building administrators, and teacher leaders.  This is a powerful example of the work that is developing in Oregon, and the awareness of how important it is to start looking at trauma-informed practices.  Thanks for sharing and recognizing the work that has begun in Oregon.  

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