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Multnomah County's Preschool for All: Investing in Equity
Multnomah County's Preschool for All: Investing in Equity

We know early childhood education builds communities. Yet, there remains a crisis of access to early educational experiences that support children's learning, sense of their competencies, and critical thinking. Today, we recognize that issues of achievement gaps, success in school, productivity, responsible citizenship, and social well-being all trace back to support in the earliest years of life.

The "Preschool for All: Investing in Equity" conversation started three years ago when Social Venture Partners (SVP), a group that practices venture philanthropy, decided to make equity investments in preschool. SVP partnered with PSU's Early Childhood Council, an interdisciplinary and innovative coalition of faculty and community members, and Early Learning Multnomah (ELM), the Early Learning Hub for Multnomah County, to mobilize communities towards investments in preschool.  The goal was to make affordable preschool available for every child in Multnomah County and ensure that families experience preschools free from racism, bias, and discrimination.

As part of the conversation, ELM asked us to consider what each of our organizations can do about racialized poverty. How do we adapt to changing demographics? How do we make sure that our services are accessible, culturally relevant, and unbiased? And how can we change, grow, and adapt to serve families of color better?

Last October, after working to build an equity-based shared vision for early childhood, the collaboration decided to convene a "Preschool for All: Investing in Equity" conversation. Portland State University hosted the event, which sparked a collaborative process to generate new, creative solutions that would improve access to affordable preschool for families. The event brought together 200 participants across the early childhood sectors: school districts and the county department of education, city and state government, community and early childhood programs and agencies, healthcare service providers, philanthropic organizations and students and faculty from community colleges and universities.

The collaboration continues as partners work with community agencies and elected officials to explore the options of Preschool for All. To support this work, the Graduate School of Education, through the Dean's Fund for Excellence, awarded Dr. Ingrid Anderson $5,000 in start-up funds.  With that support, Dr. Anderson will create a community-participatory model of shared input through smartphone facilitated, small social group conversations that encourage ongoing family engagement in the design process of preschools. The community input will help develop a program that not only allows for equitable access to design and policy decisions but is grounded in a "Funds of Knowledge" framework that builds on local sociocultural research and practices, and resources already in place and familiar to the community.

"This seed money provides the resources needed for applying for larger external grants at organizations like the Kellogg Foundation that can help us implement programs that honor all children as capable and full of promise," Anderson said. "If we acknowledge that the classroom is a microcosm of society, then we acknowledge that families' voices need to be at the heart of the preschool conversation and design process."  

You can learn more about the Early Childhood Council by visiting the Council's website. The Early Childhood Council provides leadership through collaboration, engagement, and communication to prioritize the interdisciplinary expertise needed to promote the holistic nature of early childhood within the metropolitan area and beyond.

By Ingrid Anderson