Preschool has positive effects on childhood development, health outcomes and lifetime earnings, but only 15 percent of Multnomah County residents have access to public early childhood programs. For the rest, a month of preschool runs an average of $1,000 per month.
Members of the Preschool for All Task Force discussed those findings before the Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, Dec. 19, in the latest development of the group’s effort towards making preschool accessible for all residents. The panel included Mark Holloway, former Chief Executive Officer of Social Venture Partners; Dana Hepper of the Children’s Institute; Carmen Rubio of Latino Network; and Lydia Gray-Holifield of the Early Learning Multnomah Parent Accountability Council.
“This is something where we truly are making an investment in the future,” said Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, the champion behind the initiative. “We’re building something better and brighter for our community and our county.”
The briefing comes on the heels of an $85,000 grant award from the Meyer Memorial Trust. The funds will support engagement with parents, providers, teachers and culturally-specific community organizations which will help shape the group's recommendations.
“Our work started with a vision,” Mark Holloway, a member of the task force, told the Board. “It was a vision that was borne of what parents were asking. What if every child could attend a preschool that’s right for them and that every family can afford it so every child could have access.”
The Task Force, convened in 2018, included 30 community leaders, 100 community members, and 52 community-based organizations. Over the past year, the group looked into expanding access to affordable, high quality preschool for 3- and 4-year olds in Multnomah County--especially those with the least access.
Gray-Holifield said she envisions a community in which everyone has access to high quality, culturally-appropriate education. “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.”
The group’s report includes a number of recommendations including raising workforce salaries, developing new preschool facilities and improving existing ones, and implementing a culturally-appropriate network of home-based, center-based, Head Start and public school-based preschool programs.
Implementing preschool for all is expected to cost $150 to $250 million annually, which the group expects to raise through a ballot referral. Over the coming months, the Board of County Commissioners is expected to further explore the issue and potentially refer a measure to voters.
Members of the board voiced their support for early childhood investments and looked forward to considering different funding proposals at an upcoming meeting.“It’s easier to raise a healthy child than repair a broken adult, Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. “The return on investment is going to have a huge impact.”