The Multnomah County measure will pay preschool teachers roughly the same as public kindergarten teachers — around $74,000 a year for lead teachers, up from $31,000. Teaching assistants will earn about $20 an hour. The measure will eventually raise $202 million a year from taxpayers. It plans to add an estimated 7,000 preschool spots and hire 2,300 teachers.
“Teacher pay versus affordability is the major crisis all across the child-care landscape,” said Dan Wuori, director of early learning at the Hunt Institute, an education policy research group affiliated with Duke University. “We’ve had this broken system for decades, where quality is sometimes lacking and the affordability of the system for families is really subsidized on the backs of a low-income work force, many of whom are women of color.
“On paper at least, this measure addresses both of those concerns.”
The policy draws on recent early education research and tries to avoid the unintended consequences that have befallen other universal preschool programs.
For example, discrimination in discipline starts as early as preschool, research shows, and Black boys are much more likely than other children to be suspended or expelled. The measure forbids expulsions from preschool, and provides training for how to address challenging behavior instead.
Another example: Public pre-K in places like New York and Washington, D.C., has ended up decreasing the supply of infant and toddler care programs. The Multnomah County measure aims to prevent that by paying providers to maintain those programs.
The new measure also addresses two of the central debates in early childhood policy.
First, it will be universal, not aimed at children from low-income families. (The program will start with children with the greatest need and take full effect in a decade.) Proponents of targeted programs say they’re most effective because children from low-income families benefit most from free preschool, and it costs less to make it free for a smaller group of students.
Universal programs, though, are more politically popular and, research shows, have more benefits for children. They are less segregated, and children learn from spending time with peers from different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds. The programs are more effective, most likely because they are held to higher standards and families become more invested in them, according to research by Elizabeth Cascio, an economist at Dartmouth.