Surprise! "Preschool for All" is a bust.

Upper middle class and high-income residents have been paying the hideous Multnomah County income tax for a couple of years now. It's "for the children," you know – funding "preschool for all." And yet despite the hundreds of millions sloshing around in this trough every year, nothing has been written about what the taxpayers are actually getting for all that money.

Until now. Sophie, Child of the Weed, has taken a look, and the answer is: not much. It's a Jessica Chevy Vega production, and so you know it's going to be heavy on the word salad and slim on the results. Sure enough, that's what's happening here.

In its official planning report in July 2020, the program said it would create 1,500 to 2,000 new publicly funded seats by the 2023-24 school year. Thanks in part to the pandemic, it’s financed only 1,200. More crucially, the county has in two years created only 507 entirely new preschool seats that didn’t exist before the tax.

A WW review of county budget documents, as well as interviews with key figures, shows that Preschool for All, just like the county’s share of Metro’s massive homeless services measure, has vastly underspent its budget. It’s created few seats that didn’t exist before the measure and has failed to spend dollars on the most stubborn problems that the program promised to address....

In its first year of tax collection, Preschool for All raked in $68 million more than it had projected, bringing the first-year total to $187 million. In its second year, the tax brought in $199 million.... 

Remarkably, the county has never previously disclosed how the first-year dollars were spent, only how they’d been budgeted.

On Oct. 3, county officials shared documents with WW that revealed a surprise: Preschool for All underspent its first-year budget by almost half. The county budgeted $59 million in its first year and only spent $30 million, according to the figures....

In the first year, $5.7 million went to the city of Portland for tax collection; that will be an ongoing expense, costing no more than $6.4 million annually....

The county spent $5 million internally to administer the program, including payroll for 18 program staff.

To onlookers, such high overhead is alarming....

Preschool for All promises to create 12,000 publicly funded slots by 2030, on top of the estimated 3,000 publicly funded slots that already exist. But the county says it doesn’t know just how many of those 12,000 seats must be entirely new preschool seats, meaning they didn’t exist prior to the tax.

But a 2018 legislative report by the measure’s backers does offer an estimate of how much new capacity must be added: between 260 and 580 new classrooms and 2,300 teachers.

That means Multnomah County will need to add at least 43 new classrooms each year over the next six years to meet its goal for 2030.

Only 18 of the 83 classrooms in which Preschool for All is currently funding slots are entirely new.

The whole story, here, is worth reading. True to her code, the Weed reporter finds a few "success story" anecdotes to sprinkle in among the nasty facts and figures. But the bottom line is a familiar one: Tons of money is being shaken out of successful Portlanders, which is driving them out of town, and the money is not being spent as promised. 

So far, $386 million has resulted in a grand total of 507 new preschool seats. You math majors are way ahead of me: That works out to around $761,000 a seat. Most of the money has gone to subsidizing preschool slots that were already available, and to overhead. But don't worry: Vega is putting her best people on it. It will all be great someday, she assures us. In the meantime, keep paying or she'll sic the City of Portland revenue Dobermans on you.

Ain't that the Portland way. 


  1. I think you should go easier on the WW and Peel, Jack. Whatever their sins they're one of the few remaining places you can read well-sourced critical thinking about the city and county, and they've had a pretty strong focus on corruption and inefficiency lately. Few alt-weeklies remain, and far fewer are as productive.

    1. WW and Peel are bottom feeders. For whatever reason they got a couple scraps right. They've ignored important stories, suppressed important stories, and lied about important stories. With an air of superiority.

    2. The Weed always has an agenda. Always.

  2. Tax the rich works as long as the rich stay put.
    The fools that came up with this scam didn’t give a thought to the future and the unintended consequences.

    1. I’m surprised that the 100 filers who pay 17% of all of the tax are still in Multnomah County. Between PFA and the Metro tax you’d think it would be trivial to cash buy a home somewhere in lovely Clark or Yamhill County. They’d lop 30% - 50% off their property taxes, too.

    2. Other jurisdictions (NYC, CT, and no doubt NJ) also keep track of their highest-income taxpayers. The fact that MultCo has joined that pack is not a good thing. If you have to worry that some of those people will pull out, it shows that your marginal taxes are way too high.

  3. If I had any kind of money, which of course I don’t, I would had fled Portland & Multnomah County years ago. I live right over the line over here in ‘redneck’ Clackamas County (LO), and need only to walk out my door to see the benefits from such a move.

    Living in Portland and Multnomah County is akin to an invitation to a good ole fashioned bit of Viking pillaging. Living there “really” only makes sense if you are part of the government/non-profit complex.... a person could at least justify such a decision that way. Better to be a pillager than to be pillaged.

  4. Also worth noting is that the tax rate increases in 2026 and Chevy-Pederson flatly refused to discuss canceling the increase, even though the County already has more money than it can use.

    Clackamas, Clark, or Washington county, (in that order), here I come.

    1. Really, Clark is a far better answer. No income tax, and you shop at the Portland Costco to cheat on the sales tax.

    2. It's not worth the drive to save $20 in taxes. Appliances and large quantities of building materials, more like it.

  5. There's no school for any kids in Portland now. Nice place, Portland. Go visit Powell's Book Store. Steve Diun says it's a good place to take your 2 1/2 year old granddaughter. Be Safe.


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