The Portland Children’s Levy (PCL), a City of Portland initiative, annually generates $20 million through a local property tax. PCL grew out of a need to increase opportunity for all Portland’s children. Historical policies and practices have a direct relationship with disparities in outcomes for children navigating poverty and children of color. PCL strives to change this trajectory by supporting community-based programs that help prepare children for school, support them to be successful in and out of school, and eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in children’s outcomes.
Portland voters approved the first Levy in 2002 and overwhelmingly renewed it four times; Levy funding runs through June 2029. See the Portland City Council Ordinance referring the Levy to voters, ballot language and Act governing Levy operations here.
PCL funds 91 programs for children age birth through 24 in six program areas that support positive early development, school engagement and academic achievement, high school graduation, and family safety and stability. Community partners provide a range of services including high quality preschool, enriching after school programs, caring adult mentors, therapeutic supports in times of trauma and crisis, and daily access to nutritious food. Programs receive funding through a competitive application process.
Funding Priorities and Process
In advance of 2019-20 grantmaking, PCL worked with Empress Rules Equity Consulting to engage community members most affected by Levy investments. Empress Rules’ final recommendations focused on equity: culturally relevant and responsive programs provided by staff who reflect the culture and speak the languages of those they serve and who include families and youth in program planning and evaluation. Program area strategies for 2020-2025 and the funding application relied on these recommendations, and were informed by local data on children and families in Portland and relevant research on best practices. In response to community feedback, PCL also created the Small Grants Fund to further improve equitable access to Levy funding for smaller organizations with barriers to applying for PCL grants.
A five-member Allocation Committee meets publicly to make funding decisions. Volunteers from the community review and score applications. Using scores and other published criteria, staff makes funding recommendations. Applicants can submit testimony after reviewing application scores and staff recommendations. This information helps the Allocation Committee decide which programs to recommend and how much to invest in each program. Those recommendations are submitted to the Portland City Council for final review and approval.
Monitoring and Reporting Performance
PCL uses a framework of goals, program strategies and performance measures to gauge the performance of the Levy and its grant investments. Staff monitor grants through regular reporting and site visits. The Allocation Committee reviews grant performance data annually. PCL uses data collected from grantees to report PCL’s overall performance annually on 6 measures:
- Demographics of Program Participants
- Demographics of Organization Staff and Board
- Service Goals
- Program Participation
- Participant Outcomes
- Staff Turnover