Finding child care in the U.S. is a major challenge for many parents. However, the country may find a model for success in Portland, Oregon.
Escuela Viva Community School is part of the city's ambitious child care plan called Preschool for All.
Leslee Barnes oversees the program in Multnomah County. Her county was facing a problem as COVID-19 spread rapidly across the country: Teachers were leaving and facilities were closing.
“We were in the midst of the pandemic when this came about,” Barnes said. “People recognized and heard those stories and said, 'Yes, this is something that we needed to do.'”
One part of the program focuses on teacher pay. Right now, county preschool teachers make about $30,000 a year. By the end of the decade, their salary will more than double, making the same amount as those teaching kindergarten.
“At some point they say, ‘I'm not making what I would make if I would just go around the corner to the local kindergarten.’ And so, we built in that pay structure that people would retain and stay in preschool that wanted to,” Barnes adds.
The second part of the plan provides funds to encourage schools to build in child care deserts. Lastly, Preschool for All has an ambitious goal of free preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds in Multnomah County by 2030.
This plan, which was approved by voters, is funded by an additional income tax on the county’s highest earners.
“We’re not paid babysitters," said preschool teacher Angie Garcia. "We are early childhood educators with a very important task.”
Garcia has spent nearly 20 years in child care. These last few have brought idealism and optimism usually found in those who scamper through the systems. They are the ones for whom the success of Preschool for All will ultimately affect.
“It’s childhood. It’s vibrancy,” Garcia said. “And if you sit back and just watch, it’s beautiful.”