Opinion M26-214: Make 'Preschool For All' reality
Multnomah County voters have the chance to invest in a fair and equitable start for every child through the "Preschool for All" proposal on the November ballot. We need to take it. Preschool for All will ensure that every child has the opportunity to learn, grow and be successful by providing high-quality, tuition-free preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds in Multnomah County.
Preschool for All is a referendum on our early childhood education system — one that is rife with inequities and systemic racism. The pandemic is showing us that working families and Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities are being hit hard by a trifecta of historic systemic, social and economic inequities. The unprecedented economic strain on families is making it much harder for parents and caregivers to continue to work and for their children to have access to affordable, high-quality preschool.
Just a few years ago, Oregon had the fourth-highest childcare costs in the country, making preschool out of reach for far too many hard-working families. Children in BIPOC communities are consistently most affected by the lack of affordable, high-quality preschool. Preschool for All prioritizes BIPOC children and families and those with the least access, eventually building to a system that lifts up every child and family in our county.
When childcare centers throughout our county shuttered due to the pandemic, employers saw firsthand just how much parents, particularly women, counted on sending their children to preschool so they could work. The lack of childcare throughout the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women. Across the nation, about 617,000 women left the workforce in September alone, compared with only 78,000 men, according to government data released earlier this month.
Preschool for All is one of the best investments we can make in our short-term economic recovery and our long-term economic future. For every dollar spent, universal preschool returns an estimated $7 to $16 to the community. This comes in the form of children better prepared for school and students achieving higher lifetime earnings and better health outcomes.
The funding mechanism for Preschool for All is one that Multnomah County residents can get behind: a progressive tax system that will tax only the highest income earners. Approximately 90% of Multnomah County taxpayers won't pay a penny.
Preschool for All ensures that every parent or caregiver, no matter their circumstances or goals, has the child care support needed to earn a living, build a career if they choose and contribute to the economy — all while making sure their children can thrive developmentally in a high-quality, affordable preschool setting. Research has consistently shown that children who attend preschool are better prepared to enter kindergarten, more likely to graduate high school and set up for lifelong success.
This proposal would also address well-known issues within our current child care provider system. Preschool teachers — a workforce that is made up predominantly of women, disproportionately women of color — are paid less than half the salary of kindergarten teachers. This results in high turnover and impacts learning for preschool children who thrive on consistency and routine. Preschool for All ensures a living wage for preschool teachers and workers. With higher salaries, we can keep talented teachers in the field, leading to better outcomes for children — and our entire community.
Preschool providers are also facing devastating impacts from COVID-19, and that is especially true for BIPOC providers. A recent survey showed that 50% of providers in Oregon say they will close without help. This will directly hurt families and will only exacerbate the vast shortage of preschool facilities and qualified teachers we had before the pandemic.
This proposal is a community-driven plan that will give every child in Multnomah County the opportunity to start kindergarten ready to learn and thrive developmentally, setting them up for success throughout their life. We hope you will consider voting yes on Preschool for All (Measure 26-214). Learn more at preschoolforall.org.
Jessica Vega Pederson is the Multnomah County Commissioner for District 3. Sahar Muranovic is vice chair of the David Douglas School Board and was a chief petitioner for Universal Preschool NOW, a coalition that gathered more than 32,000 signatures in favor of universal preschool. They are the co-chairs of the Preschool for All campaign.
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