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What We Do

The Portland Children’s Levy (PCL) prepares children for school, supports them to be successful inside and outside of classrooms, and eliminates racial and ethnic disparities in children’s outcomes.

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. The Levy, a City of Portland initiative, strives to change this trajectory by generating about $20 million annually through a property tax to provide grants to community-based programs supporting children and families.

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 (Resolution No. 37343) referring the Levy to voters, ballot language and Act governing Levy operations below.

PCL funds more than 80 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 access to high-quality childcare, parent-child activities for infants and toddlers, 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 in 2020 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. 

The Community Council was created in 2022 to advise Portland Children’s Levy staff and the Allocation Committee on Levy policies and procedures, including community engagement and funding rounds. It is composed of 11-13 members, who are approved by the Allocation Committee.

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