Dear friends & neighbors,
Since my time in the legislature I have been a champion for expanding high quality early learning and preschool opportunities for children and families in our community. Decades of research tell us that preschool has a long-term positive impact not only on children’s learning and academic skills, but also on their health, well-being, and success across their lifetimes, strengthening communities and leading to greater economic prosperity for all. In fact, new research from the Heckman Institute tells us that the impact of early childhood investments span generations, with the children of people who have access to preschool experiencing improved education and life outcomes as well.
Unfortunately, it’s well documented that preschool is still out of reach for too many families in our community. Only 15 percent of Multnomah County families with three and four year olds have access to publicly funded preschools.
As a policy maker, I hear stories about the need for affordable options that meet children’s cultural and developmental needs, and as a parent myself, I remember the scramble to find a preschool that worked for my family’s budget and children’s needs. I also hear frequently from preschool teachers and early learning providers about the struggles they face in a profession that doesn’t pay a living wage or provide the kind of support that keeps educators in the profession.
For the last 18 months I’ve had the pleasure of working with a large community-based coalition striving to solve these challenges through the Preschool for All Task Force. We’ve developed an equity-focused plan to make high quality, affordable, joyful, developmentally appropriate, culturally responsive, inclusive preschool available to all 3 and 4-year-olds in the County, starting with families who currently have the least access to the early learning experiences they need.
On December 19th Carmen Rubio of Latino Network, Mark Holloway of Social Venture Partners, Dana Hepper of Children’s Institute, and Lydia Gray-Holifield, a parent from Early Learning Multnomah’s Parent Accountability Council, had the chance to share our work and recommendations with my colleagues on the Board of Commissioners.
As these members of our coalition shared, the Preschool for All Task Force includes 30 community leaders, 100 community members, and 52 community-based organizations and our guiding vision is that every child in Multnomah County has access to the preschool that is right for them and every family can afford it. Under the Preschool for All model, teachers and classroom assistants will earn a living wage that honors the expertise they bring to teaching our children, and families will be able to choose from programs available in homes, centers, Head Start, and public schools.Ms. Gray-Holifield summed up our vision perfectly, when testifying on our vision: “We want to see that preschools look like us,” Gray-Holifield said. “I want the teachers in the classroom to look like the kids in the classroom. We are the child’s first teacher.”
Thank you to everyone who has supported this effort so far, and to my colleagues on the board for the supportive discussion on the 19th. I truly believe that through this work we are making an important investment in the future and building something incredible for our community.
PS: You can find out more about Preschool for All here.
Upgrading our transportation system to address climate change, enhance safety, expand and improve transit options, and account for our growing population has been a main priority for me, and last month the transportation task force that I co-chair passed a major milestone toward making major improvements.
The task force advanced priorities for 13 transportation corridors throughout our region to the Metro Council for their approval. These improvements include:
- 86 miles of safety improvements on high crash corridors;
- 40-45 miles of new sidewalks;
- 280 safe marked crossings;
- 25-30 miles of new bus lanes;
- 250 new transit priority signals; and
- 4,000 new street lights.
This transportation measure would have an enormous impact on our community, yet there is still work to do. This winter, the task force will look at programmatic investments that we could make, such as additional funding for the Safe Routes to School program or free transit passes for youth, as well as a funding mechanism to finance these improvements. The goal is to forward a recommendation to the Metro Council by spring 2020 that could be before voters in November.
Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” I was honored to join my fellow Commissioners at The Skanner’s annual MLK Day breakfast. The message Dr. King gave us in his famous letter was one we all must embrace: that while we may live separate lives, the impact of our policies, actions, and words affect us all. As I listened to the speakers honoring Dr. King’s life and legacy, I found myself reaffirming my commitment to center that message as I work alongside all of you to build a stronger, healthier, and more compassionate Multnomah County.