Oregon Preschool Policy Could Be National Model
On Election Day, Multnomah County, which includes Portland, Oregon, passed one of the most progressive universal preschool policies in the nation.
The measure, to be paid for by a large tax on high earners, will provide free preschool for all children ages 3 and 4, in public schools and in existing and new private preschools and home-based child care centers. It will also significantly raise teachers’ wages so they are equivalent to those of kindergarten teachers.
It seeks to overcome the central problem in early childhood care and education: It is unaffordable for many families, yet teachers are underpaid. The solution, Multnomah County voters decided, is to finance preschool with public funding instead of private tuition and to pay teachers much more.
It also seeks to overcome some of the pitfalls of universal preschool policies in places like New York and Washington, D.C. In doing so, early childhood researchers say the policy could serve as a blueprint for the rest of the country.
“This was focused on access to quality preschool, so when children enter kindergarten, they are able to succeed,” said Jessica Vega Pederson, a county commissioner and a chairwoman of the measure’s steering committee.
Caregiving has become a much more politically salient issue. The closings of schools and child care centers because of the coronavirus made clear the extent to which the sector underpins the economy. Joe Biden has made caregiving a central part of his economic plan.
Child care is the largest expense for many families, and yet educators — who are disproportionately Black and Latino women — earn an average of $12 an hour, according to the center for the study of child care employment at the University of California, Berkeley. Half rely on public assistance. Even when they have the same education, preschool teachers earn half of what kindergarten teachers do, the center found.
Research has shown that high-quality preschool is beneficial for children, particularly those from low-income families. It helps them prepare for kindergarten — academically, socially and behaviorally — and shrinks achievement gaps. Research has shown that for poor children, it results in increased earnings and better health later in life.
文／Claire Cain Miller 譯／李京倫、核稿／樂慧生