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Using income tax, measure provides free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds in Multnomah County

PMG PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Preschoolers at Mt. Hood Community College Head Start were conferring on some prepandemic learning.

A measure that will provide free preschool for every child in Multnomah County passed by 64%.

For county Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, there was lot riding on the 2020 general election. The commissioner was a champion of Measure 26-214, the ballot initiative she crafted that would ensure all young children in the county can attend preschool, regardless of their family's financial background.

Pederson's Preschool for All measure will use income tax revenue to fund preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds, while also funding higher wages for preschool teachers and workers. The program would prioritize in-need and at-risk children for early slots.

The measure's funding source? A 1.5% income tax on individuals making more than $125,000 and households bringing in over $200,000 and an additional 3% income tax on households with income over $400,000.

The tax rates increase in 2026, to 2.3%, with an additional 1.5% tax on taxable income over $250,000 for single filers and $400,000 for joint filers.

The measure is expected to generate $133 million in 2021 and $202 million by 2026.

The program will be administered by the Multnomah County Department of County Human Services, with an appointed oversight committee.

"I am beyond excited that voters have the opportunity to transform early childhood education in Multnomah County," Vega Pederson said hours before the first election results rolled in Tuesday evening.

"I couldn't be more proud of our women of color-led, groundbreaking community plan, and I am so grateful to the hundreds of businesses, organizations and thousands of community supporters who have helped make this historic moment possible."

By 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Vega Pederson and her staff already were celebrating.

"I think you'll probably see action on this from the county in the next month or so, you know, as we really gear up," Vega Pederson said Tuesday evening in a video conference meeting with media members. She said she hopes to see the local program replicated elsewhere.

"This is something that we know people all across the nation are looking at how we're doing this," the commissioner said. "We started off this work by really talking about what it would look like for Multnomah County but created a model that is something that can be used, I think, in the rest of our state, in our nation ... and we've had interest from, you know, national organizations."

Fellow county Commissioner Shusheela Jayapal also was rooting for the measure to pass.

"I think Preschool for All will be a vital step toward creating equity for Multnomah County children and families, as well as for the preschool workforce," Jayapal said via email Monday.

The measure was embraced by the Portland Association of Teachers, Latino Network, NAYA Family Center, Kairos PDX, Oregon Public Health Association, Black Parent Initiative and others.

Aside from providing free preschool to all families, regardless of income, the measure ensures pre-K teachers are paid on par with their K-12 colleagues, with a minimum starting wage of $18 for assistant teachers and a pay scale no less than 75% of a lead preschool teacher's wage by 2035.

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