Image courtesy Portland Montessori Collaborative

While the child care landscape can seem bleak for many parents trying to find affordable care, know that good things are on the horizon. “Multnomah County is on track to have the best public preschool program in the country,” says Mary King, co-chair of Universal Preschool Now! 

Next month, the Preschool for All program approved by Multnomah County voters in November 2020 will open its first wave of enrollments of 3- to 4-year-olds for up to five 6-hours days of free preschool a week. “In this first year of Preschool for All slots, we anticipate having 500 spaces available and prioritizing families who currently have the least access to high-quality preschool programs,” says Multnomah County’s Preschool and Early Learning Division Director, Leslee Barnes. “Applications will open at the end of March for slots that begin in September 2022.”

Each year, the number of enrollments will increase with the aim to have available spots for all of Multnomah County’s (then) 3- and 4-year-olds by the fall of 2030.

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“People are paying more attention to early learning now,” says Mercedes Castle, the head of school at Portland Montessori Collaborative in Southwest Portland (pictured above). “Studies have repeatedly shown the benefits and more people are looking for high-quality early education. Preschool for All could be a real game changer in the years to come, not just in making preschool more accessible, but in elevating the industry’s understanding and practices in educating the youngest child.” 

Parent feedback played a huge role in shaping this initiative from the beginning, adds Barnes. “Parents were leaders in the policy design and their input ensured that the Preschool for All Plan included full-day preschool options of up to 10 hours, hiring and supporting early educators who are Black, Indigenous and People of Color, banning suspensions and expulsions of young children, and family choice about the preschool options that are right for their child.” And more good news, both Clackamas and Washington counties have started asking for community feedback as they explore adopting universal, tuition-free preschool programs for their residents. To find out more information about Multnomah County’s program, visit their website.

To learn more about how the child care crisis is affecting local parents and educators, read our feature article “The Child Care Crunch.”

Denise Castañon
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