Multnomah County voters appear to be approving preschool for all, according to unofficial election returns updated Wednesday.
Ballot Measure 26-214 was referred to the November ballot by the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. It would tax upper-income earners to help provide early childhood education for thousands of children from low-income families. The measure will levy an additional 1.5% income tax on individuals earning more than $125,000 and couples making over $200,000.
The measure promises to provide “voluntary, tuition-free high-quality preschool for all children who are 3 or 4 years old” by September of the enrolling year. It had a long list of supporters, including elected officials, Latino Network and the Coalition of Communities of Color, as well as unions and business groups.
“It’s always been about building this preschool program that is going to be the best in the country, with community voice at the center, and really recognizing the needs of children, of families, of workers, in Multnomah County,” said Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, who led the effort behind the measure.
Oregon has struggled with providing affordable preschool and child care more broadly even before the coronavirus pandemic created enormous financial and health worries for providers.
“Making sure we have stability and investment in the system is really critical, and that’s one of the things that I think COVID had shown us,” Vega Pederson said. “Not having that public investment really puts this entire industry in dire straits exactly at a time when I think parents realize just how important it is.”
By some measures, Oregon has among the least affordable child care opportunities in the country. In addition to the need for less expensive child care, supporters point to research showing that students who receive a quality preschool experience before entering kindergarten are more likely to succeed in school.
Vega Pederson wants to see Preschool for All become a model for other counties in Oregon as well as communities nationwide.
“We’re really excited for Multnomah County to be a leader in this work and to set up an example of how you do this the right way, and how you do that in an inclusive way for all children," she said.
The measure had been one of two universal preschool efforts seeking voter approval this November, but the two campaigns merged together earlier this year. Sahar Muranovic was a chief petitioner for the other campaign before becoming a Preschool for All co-chair.
“We’re going to see the benefits and returns of this for many years to come in the way that we would be providing this equitable service for our families and children, but also keeping the workers in mind as well,” Muranovic said.