A landmark trauma-informed education bill to address “chronic absences of students” in the state’s public schools was signed by Governor Kate Brown last week. 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 bill’s $500,000 in funding falls vastly short of the original $5.75 million requested 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.
Here’s a quick summary of the new law signed on March 29, 2016:
—Directs the Oregon Department of Education and the Chief Education Office to jointly develop a statewide education plan to address chronic absences of students in public schools. The plan will be developed by state agencies in collaboration with community and education stakeholders and will include guidance and best practices for all schools to track absence rates and improve attendance. In addition, the plan will describe technical assistance to be available to schools.
—Defines a “trauma-informed approach,” based on the four “R’s,” – realization, recognition, response and resisting re-traumatization — as described in “SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma for a Trauma-Informed Approach” (see page 9-10).
—Establishes a pilot program to fund school districts and education service districts to decrease rates of school absenteeism by using trauma-informed approaches that are “based in schools and take advantage of community resources.”
—Authorizes $500,000 for the program for a three-year trauma-informed school pilot. The pilot requires wide coordination with health and community-based organizations, professional development for school staff, and designation of a “trauma specialist” who oversees the implementation of the plan and uses evidence-based approaches tailored to the community.
After months of work in the education community, a consensus developed in a 35-day legislative session (adjourned March 3) 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 from the legislature later, and that the $500,000 supports the first year of the three-year pilot. She said her organization is “thrilled” with the bipartisan consensus around the bill. In the comment section (posted 2/19/16 at 2:25 pm) of a request related to trauma-informed legislation on ACEsConnection.com, 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 held a meeting on March 18 to begin talking about the design of the pilot 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 included representatives of school districts, state agencies responsible for health, mental health, public health, and various organizations involved in the bill’s passage. The session included sharing information about what a trauma-informed school would look like and addressing how the pilot should be modified since the funding level is much lower than originally conceived. According to Tromba, the agency is seeking to have “a good research model in place as they move forward“ to be sure that whatever is learned from the pilot is going to help in the future.
Tromba also said that 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, and middle school to high school.
For a chronology of how two bills were combined to address the problem of absenteeism, see Maureen Hinman’s blog. She describes a series of conferences, one of which featured Christopher Blodgett, director of Collaborative Learning for Educational Achievement and Resilience (CLEAR) at Washington State University and a pioneer in developing trauma-informed schools. The conferences were organized by a coalition of health, education and child advocacy organizations, Alliance4Kids, that focused on education about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), on chronic absenteeism, and addressed trauma-informed schools.
Jim Sporleder, former principal of Lincoln High School featured in the film Paper Tigers, is working with a consortium of education leaders including school superintendents, building administrators, and teachers in Oregon in their efforts to implement trauma-informed practices. Sporleder was recently brought to Oregon to work with superintendents (including Bob Stewart of the Gladstone School District which is south of Portland and includes schools from K-12) and other leaders on implementation of trauma-informed practices. Sporleder said this effort is especially exciting because it is being led at the superintendent level.
As described in the opinion piece by Doug Riggs with the Alliance4Kids in The Oregonian’s OREGONLIVE, Governor Kate Brown demonstrated her support for the approaches contained in the bill by her personal involvement and that of her administration throughout the consensus-building process. Governor Brown recently signed a state minimum wage bill into law.