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PRESCHOOL FOR ALL – SVP’s Partnership with Multnomah County

Posted by Social Venture Partners Portland

Whether we knew it or not back then, your success and mine began in the love and cuddling we received as infants, in the play and story time we got as toddlers, and in the structured learning experiences we had as preschoolers. Success and failure are set early in life. Volumes of research are clear about that point.

Unfortunately, more than 70% of the kids and families living in poverty in our community don’t get the regular early learning experiences that help them thrive. For a community, that bodes a dismal future. For the children, it’s a tragedy of lost potential and repeats the cycle of poverty.

SVP knows our community can solve that problem and break through the barriers holding our youngest kids back. We have worked for six years on that pursuit, guided and encouraged by our nonprofit Community Partners/Investees and the parents they serve. This year, Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson took up the charge with us, adding the convening power and leadership to drive policy change. [Read her Oregonian opinion article on preschool for all here.]

Together, we developed a Preschool for All Task Force and secured $100,000 from the County to take action. PreschoolForall

The Task Force brings together the political, education, neighborhood, and parent leadership needed to develop a community strategy for universal access to preschool. Beyond just addressing the narrow need for funding, the Task Force is developing strategy for the broader needs of a universal system: workforce, places and spaces, etc. The Task Force will produce a mandate and a path to guide the many players it will take to provide preschool for every child.


While the Task Force is the next step in creating broad and lasting structural change in early childhood education, it is also a meaningful end to SVP’s groundwork in this effort. We have continued to do our trademark investing and capacity building work with nonprofits that grow their capacity, vision, and courage. But these community leaders also made clear to us that working to grow their capacity alone would not solve the problem; funding is scarce to do what was needed for the underserved kids and families and the barriers are too immense for them to knock down alone. So we researched how other cities have achieved universal preschool. We worked with allied organizations to understand what kind of learning experiences parents wanted for their children. We helped build the will of the community through community events and countless conversations. That groundwork turned into clarity and commitment to making quality early learning experiences like preschool accessible to the children most underserved in our community: children living in poverty, children of color, and children who are emerging English speakers.

“This absolutely would NOT be happening without SVP, in my opinion,” said Megan Irwin, former Oregon Early Learning Director. “The first time I met Mark [Holloway], five years ago now, he was talking about the importance of early learning and he has stuck with this passion for years, including years when others were not interested. I really think that he and SVP are a catalyst for this work.”

Now Mark, our CEO, is serving as Vice Chair of the Preschool for All Task Force. Our Partners are serving on the four workgroups that have been formed to provide recommendations to the Task Force, bringing both specialized skills and expertise but also valuable connections to the business sector. And we have made a $20,000 investment to provide professional facilitation for the effort.

Over the next nine months, the Task Force will lay out a path that can change the course of history for underserved children, for our schools, and for our community. This is the work of visionaries and builders. As both of those, we have important roles to play: bring expertise and ideas that low out pathways to success, connecting others to this effort so that key community leaders are bought into the strategies, and investing heart, mind, and money in the organizations and strategies. Both within the Task Force and along side it, SVP will continue doing what it takes to break down this preschool access barrier and give all kids the best shot at success.

Stay tuned for information and invitations to learn more about the Task Force’s progress. In the coming months, Commissioner Vega Pederson and SVP will host a number of listening sessions to update and engage others in the progress.

We are advancing policy goals on many fronts, click here to learn more about the additional efforts.

* In 2017, SVP researched communities around the country that have implemented universal pre-K systems. “Preschool for All: Investing in Equity” highlights a variety of implementation models and common elements of a successful effort, such as having early money and political leadership for the effort.

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