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Preschool for All: Where do we go from here?

Posted by Social Venture Partners Portland
Preschool for All Multnomah County

by David Crandall, SVP Partner

The journey of Multnomah County’s Preschool for All (P4A) program from an initial idea almost ten years ago to its overwhelming success at the ballot box in November 2020 was hardly smooth and hazard free. Patience, persistence, and a commitment to a values-driven, community-based policy development process survived many twists and turns, thanks in large part to SVP Portland’s involvement as neutral convener and effective advocate. SVP Partner Mark Holloway and County Commissioner Jessica Vega Peterson, among many other key contributors, played significant roles in maintaining the initial vision and securing the large coalition of community-based organizations that supported the bill presented to voters.

With the funds secured, now what? As the County began to staff up and put the structures in place called for by the project design, it became clear that the P4A initiative was seen by many outside the County and the state as something worthy of emulation. Laudatory newspaper articles notwithstanding, even from the New York Times, what to tell other jurisdictions when they called?

Recognizing that SVP’s role wasn’t over, the Portfolio Management Team approved an initial contribution of $17,700 for an approximately $60,000 project that would both tell the story and extract the lessons learned so others tackling a similar challenge could avoid its pitfalls and “reinventing the wheel” at every turn. A Partner project team was formed, with Mark Holloway as Lead, joined Leah Fox and me, as well as Rose Rezai, SVP’s Director of Community Impact.

SVP recruited a project advisory team, with members representing local and national funders, policy advocates, and early childhood experts, including:

The team was charged with providing input on the project scope, supporting selection of a contractor, and guiding the project design and data analysis. An RFP was crafted, proposals solicited, and a contractor selected for a quick-turnaround policy development process analysis. The selected contractor, Dialogues in Action (DIA)–an experienced and well-regarded local consulting enterprise with national reach–began work in March with the assistance of SVP Partner Megan Irwin, who has extensive professional experience in the early education arena and facilitated the Preschool for All policy development.

The objectives of the project are, perhaps, best stated in the DIA proposal:

We understand the purpose of this project is four-fold:

    1. To provide involved parents and partners the opportunity to reflect and analyze the important elements of the policy development process
    2. Identify the critical elements and tactical steps of Preschool for All’s grassroots and equity-centered policymaking
    3. Provide tools and channels to promote replication of a universal preschool model and other policy development that centers racial equity, community stakeholder voice, and grassroots coalition building
    4. Preserve the P4A policy history and original intent to support program integrity over time and through future leadership transitions

In keeping with the values-based approach to the Preschool for All policy development, DIA will deeply engage grassroots community voices to understand how the effort affected them and the policy as it developed. DIA is also engaging two community-based evaluators to conduct interviews and participate in sense-making in response to the data, as well as conduct “community verification” sessions with the parents who were at the heart of the policy making effort.

With the effort well underway, we expect findings to be outlined in the coming weeks and a public presentation in Summer 2021. Going forward, SVP’s role in this study is likely only the start, given the centrality of early education to our goal. In line with SVP’s original goal for the Preschool for All Multnomah effort, we expect the study and our subsequent efforts to be the ripples that extend far beyond the win in November 2020. More to come!

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