The application deadline for littles to participate in Multnomah County’s free preschool program is next week.
It’s May, which means a few things here in Portland: a respite from rainy days, the beginning of berry-picking season, and a flurry of internet searches from parents of toddlers for “Preschool for All.”
In November 2020, 64% of Multnomah County voters approved the landmark Preschool for All (PFA) program, which was created to give all 3- and four-year-olds, inclusive preschool education — for free. A lot has happened in the past three years. So, where does the program stand today, and how do parents apply?
In its first year, the program served more than 700 3- and 4-year-olds. Preschool for All was designed to address Multnomah County’s racial and economic disparities in preschool access by prioritizing admission to Black, Indigenous, and children of color, children in low-income families, children with disabilities, and children who speak languages other than English (although all families meeting age and residency requirements are eligible).
The process can seem overwhelming. If you’re looking to have your child benefit from free preschool education, here’s what to consider: The application to register your kiddo in Preschool for All opens annually. The deadline for the enrollment in the upcoming school year is May 31, 2023. But good news: All applications will be considered the same — whether received on the first day of the window or the last. You can expect to hear back no later than July, leaving plenty of time to enjoy the rest of summer’s sunshine and berries before heading back to school.
Step 1: Research Schools
Before starting your application, identify and rank your top preschools from this year’s list of programs. This might feel easier said than done, but remember that there isn’t one “right” approach – instead, focus on what works best for your child. Is outside time absolutely necessary for your puddle-jumping kiddo? Would they enjoy daily art and music? Does your kid thrive on a strict schedule or do they struggle with too many transitions throughout the day? You might also ask for a provider to explain in their own words the terms they use to describe their school – how do they define play-based, positive behavior intervention, or developmentally appropriate?
Many providers have detailed websites, but parents of children with disabilities, particularly, may want to do more digging. Start by identifying if staff have any specialized training, what physical accommodations they can provide (like ramps, unique needs for toileting/diapering, fences, feeding tubes), how they manage challenges ( like elopement, big feelings, sensory sensitivities), and how willing and able they are to integrate other care providers (like therapists or early intervention staff).
Step 2: Think About Your Wellbeing as a Parent
Don’t forget to consider your needs as a parent, too. Do you prefer an app to communicate to teachers and get photos throughout the day, or a teacher you can text personally? Do you dread a long commute and need a provider close to home, or are you willing to queue up your favorite podcast and go out of your way for the perfect school? Are you looking forward to planning fun summer activities or is having year-round care a necessity?
Step 3: Apply!
Once you’ve identified your top six programs, you’re ready to apply! Make an account on the PFA website and be prepared to enter your contact information, including your address to confirm eligibility; if you are experiencing homelessness or living in temporary housing, please note this as well. You will also be asked to identify your child’s gender identity, race, disability status, and their primary language before selecting your preschool choices and submitting your application.
The application is also available to download in nine languages, and the state has partnered with programs like the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization and the Latino Network to provide additional support. If you’re left with any questions, you can reach out to one of PFA’s Family Navigators at email@example.com or 503-988-7818.
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