My motivation to create a universal preschool program for the children, families and workers in Multnomah County didn’t come from research or because I come from a family of educators. My motivation came from wanting to radically change the outcomes for Black, Latinx and other kids of color.
When my mother was a child, she took a standardized test along with every other 4th grader in her school district to measure aptitude and intelligence. My mom received the highest score of every single child who took the test that year. The tough part of this story is that she didn’t learn about her score until she was getting ready to graduate high school and talking to her guidance counselor. He was looking at her transcript, saw that piece of information and asked her why she hadn’t been on the college prep track this whole time.
When she told me this story, it broke my heart. I was so angry about it, too. It made me realize in a very personal way that our systems are not set up so children like my mom – poor children, Mexican children, children who are girls – learn about their potential when it matters most and sets them up for longer-term success.
I know there are many children here in Multnomah County that face similar challenges to the challenge my mom faced. Sadly, too many families across Multnomah County do not have access to affordable preschool. Oregon is the fourth least affordable state for preschool in the country, and state and federal investments only help 15% of three and four year-olds in Multnomah County.
We know that when children receive the right supports from a young age, they thrive. And I know that as a County Commissioner, I have the power to address those challenges, especially the challenges families face when it comes to providing their children with high quality preschool and the early feedback loops so critical to future learning.
That’s why I convened a work group consisting of parents, educators, providers, subject-matter experts, and community leaders to develop the Preschool for All program, which focuses on providing high-quality, culturally appropriate preschool to families across our community, paid for by a tax on high incomes. We were able to bring together stakeholders from across the ideological spectrum – from former CEOs to Democratic Socialists – to develop Preschool for All.
This program, which voters overwhelmingly approved in November 2020, will provide free, universal, quality preschool for all 3 and 4 year olds in Multnomah County using different providers – from school districts to at-home providers and everything in between – enabling families to select from a diverse array of preschool programs one that best fits their needs.
Preschool for All will pay teachers and teachers assistants, who are overwhelmingly women and often women of color, a living wage. It will offer aftercare options, as well as multilingual, multicultural and geographical options.
The program will roll out steadily and with a focus on reaching the communities with the greatest need first, beginning with 700 slots in fall of 2022.
As County Chair, I will ensure that this program meets its growth targets and cost expectations, provides a diversity of enrollment options for families and achieves universal status by 2030. I will also continue to convene partners from the public, private, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors to break down barriers faced by those who want to start their own childcare or preschool business, which can serve as an engine of economic mobility for families throughout our community.
My work on early childhood advocacy earned me the 2021 Alexander Award from the Children’s Institute. The award recognizes individual leaders for significant work to improve the lives of young children, and is one of my proudest achievements.