As SVP Portland Partners, it seems like both a recurring dream for the future and a familiar, trodden path out of our past. It has come so far and has a difficult last mile to go. Ahead of our July 13 Partner Update & Discussion, SVP Partner and Multnomah County Preschool for All Co-Chair Mark Holloway offers an update.
Nine Years in Nine Sentences: A Brief Recap
Nine years ago, we set a “big, hairy, audacious goal”—of ensuring every child in our community was ready for kindergarten. That goal was tested and honed and refined through our investments and engagements with Community Partners. We wanted a victory for kids and families that was real and meaningful. Together with Community Partners, we set our sights on “Preschool for All” because a strong body of research shows the tremendous impact of high-quality early learning programs on a child’s brain development, school readiness, and long-term well-being.
We have invested in Community Partners capacity to scale up their services, and advocated for more public funding in early learning. We also did our research, began championing support of cries for progress, and built the coalition needed to advance the goal. We knew we needed a political champion to reach the goal, and we found one in Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson. Through our partnership and that of our Community Partners, parents, and community leaders, she led a grassroots policy-making process that developed a viable plan for universal preschool that prioritizes the children who most need our support. We have been working tirelessly to put this plan in front of county voters in the November 2020 election.
Where We Are Now: Contradictory Evidence
We find ourselves now both on the cusp of victory and at a moment of collective pause. There are countless challenges related to COVID-19 that threaten the viability of a new tax measure, yet economists all agree that quality preschool offers the very best return on community investment.
One sure path to greater racial justice is supporting the early learning of our black and brown children, but will our community make that connection?
Voters in Multnomah County overwhelmingly supported the homeless services tax measure in May, but are they keen to support another?
Our community-based organizations have been stretched thin by economic conditions that force them to meet a demand for more services while they experience waning revenue, yet they have been the most ardent advocates for Preschool for All.
Still, the march of progress continues. COVID-19 requires us to adjust our thinking about how to move forward with the Preschool for All initiative. However, the pandemic has also made clear the critical need for a quality preschool system. Our families, community, and economy need Preschool for All now more than ever. As the economic crisis deepens and closures have threatened the supply of child care and preschool providers, Multnomah County needs a stable revenue source that covers the true cost of these services and provides reliable, living-wage income for providers and staff.
The Preschool for All team is working to finalize the proposed policy, finishing up both financial modeling and implementation timelines. There will be a poll later this month to test voter support for Preschool for All and remaining policy decisions, such as the tax rate and structure. Coalition partners continue to endorse the policy framework, which further builds our momentum. And our communications engine continues to gain followers. (Follow Preschool for All on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.)
All efforts now lead to a decision by the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners in late July about whether to refer the measure to the voters for the November 2020 election. By then, perhaps the health and well-being of our community will be on a path toward improvement. Perhaps our community’s cries for racial justice will convince the Commissioners that this is part of the path to greater racial equity. Perhaps our voters polled will show continued support for our community’s children.
Time will tell… and, in spite of challenging circumstances, we remain steadfast as a partner in the Preschool for All effort. Please join our SVP Preschool for All update and conversation on July 13th to learn more.