A new report from Multnomah County calls for better access to affordable, high-quality preschool.

The report was created by the Preschool For All Task Force, a coalition of 30 leaders in sectors like education, business and health care — led by Multnomah County Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson.

“As a community, we’ve failed to make the needed investments in early learning that make a difference for children and families,” Vega Pederson said. “Families should never have to choose between paying rent and sending their 3-year-old to preschool. However, that is the reality for too many in our community.”

The task force was convened in September 2018 and met monthly to review county data on gaps in infrastructure, workforce and accessibility to preschool education.

It found that Oregon is the fourth least affordable state in the country when it comes to preschool, and that only families in the deepest poverty receive federal and state funding for their children — those below the federal poverty level, with a combined annual income under $25,100 for a family of four.  

That funding reaches only 15% of 3- and 4-year-olds in Multnomah County, the report states.

A recommendation the task force makes is changing the income criteria for free access to preschool to the “self-sufficiency standard,” a standard based on the costs of housing, childcare and other elements like location, rather than the federal poverty level.

In Multnomah County in 2017, the self-sufficiency standard for a family of one adult and one preschooler was an income of $52,510.

According to the report, more than 60% of Multnomah County households with children under 5 years old fall under the self-sufficiency standard, meaning that they are unable to meet their basic needs without assistance. 

The task force also recommended raising educators’ salaries. It states the median preschool teacher wage in Oregon last year was $13.70; for kindergarten teachers, it was $38.80.

Along with improved family access to preschool education and improving compensation for educators, the task force recommended establishing a public funding source for building preschool facilities as well as establishing a countywide entity responsible for oversight and administration of the Preschool for All program.

The group will begin a second phase of work this fall, focusing on more analysis and planning for implementation and funding.