This month, parents and leaders from business, philanthropy, health care, schools, culturally specific organizations and government gathered to talk about what it would take to build better preschool solutions for future generations of Multnomah County. Called the Preschool for All Task Force, the group met to kick off nine months of planning that will ultimately yield a set of policy recommendations for expanding preschool options for children and families.
The need for new, affordable preschool options is undeniable. Preschool is financially out of reach for many families in Multnomah County. In fact, Oregon is the fourth least affordable state in the nation when it comes to preschool. And, while more than 7,000 children in our county qualify for public preschool programs, only 4 out of 10 get the chance to attend, due to limited space and funding. Families of color and families whose home language is not English face even more significant barriers to accessing early learning opportunities.
Many communities across the country are facing similar dilemmas, but Multnomah County is taking a unique approach to solving it.
“Instead of bringing something fully baked to the community for review, we’ve chosen to design it with community input from the beginning,” said Molly Day, Co-Director of Early Learning Multnomah (ELM), a strategic initiative of United Way of the Columbia-Willamette. “We want to make sure that it has deep connections with parents to be able to represent what families really need and complement the other leaders who are at table.”
The Preschool for All initiative includes a diverse group of more than 75 leaders, including parents from ELM's Parent Accountability Council (PAC) who will play a central role in developing the recommendations.
ELM and Social Venture Partners (SVP) have been working together to build a network of support for this task force for more than four years. The project gained momentum last fall, with a Preschool for All event at PSU designed to rally county-wide support. Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson is now spearheading the effort, working side-by-side with parents and leaders to develop the final recommendations by June 2019.
"All children in our community deserve the chance to enter kindergarten with the skills they need to be successful and reach their full potential," said Comm. Vega Pederson. "Investing early in our children is one of the best investments we can make. I'm honored to have partners like United Way to help push this work forward."
ELM and United Way will continue to play a key role in moving the effort forward. In addition to having two PAC members on the task force, ELM’s PAC will also serve in an advisory capacity for the group on an ongoing basis. Keith Thomajan, President and CEO of United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, will serve on the task force alongside Lydia Gray-Holifield and Petra Hernandez, ELM’s PAC members, and another parent from Albina Head Start Policy Council.
“The data is clear: if we want to improve high school graduation rates, the smartest investments we can make are in early childhood,” said Keith Thomajan. “Preschool for All’s objective of expanding early childhood services so that every child is ready to learn and thrive not only makes good community sense but also good business sense and embodies United Way’s mission of improving lives, strengthening communities and advancing equity in our region.”
Together, task force members and supporters of Preschool for All understand the urgency of this work and that investing now will go a long way to create a more equitable and prosperous future for the entire county.
For more information about Preschool for All, visit the Preschool for All website.