Multnomah County faces the possibility of two competing measures on the November ballot to expand public support for preschool.
The county commission is scheduled to take up the issue whether and how to put a preschool measure on the November ballot at its Aug. 6 board meeting.
The Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America spearheaded an initiative campaign called Universal Preschool Now and succeeded this summer in gathering the more than 32,000 signatures necessary to refer the measure in the middle of the pandemic—a notable achievement.
Meanwhile, a parallel county effort called Preschool for All, led by Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, favored a similar but more modest approach to phase in support for preschool. (That measure would need to be referred to voters by the county commission.)
But Pederson and the socialists have come to an agreement to combine forces, the Portland Tribune first reported last week. The technical plan would have the county adopt the DSA measure, immediately repeal it, and then refer a compromise version of the measure to voters.
Thursday's agenda includes a vote on referral but does not spell out the various options the board might pursue.
County Commissioner Sharon Meieran tells WW she supports an approach that makes sure voters have a say on both measures.
She adds that adopting and then immediately repealing a measure that voters have already made clear with their signatures they support is, "in my view, subverting the democratic process."
"I have heard there is discussion about the potential to enact the Universal Preschool Now measure with the intent to then repeal it and have it not go to the ballot," Meieran says. "That is not what the voters signed on for when over 32,000 signed onto the measure. The concept of the enacting but repealing is actually disregarding the will of voters."
"Hopefully, this will not be the case," she adds. "It has been hard to get the full details."
County Chair Deborah Kafoury declined to comment. Vega Pederson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
What's not in contention: Investment in high-quality preschool helps children at a critical time in their development and provides a strong financial return.
"Economists estimate that the rate of return for funding high-quality preschool programs ranges from $7 to $10 for every dollar invested," reads the county's materials on a referral.
Correction: A previous version of this story included comments from an attorney quoted by the Tribune that said it would be unlawful for the county to pass and then immediately repeal the measure. The attorney Dan Meek says it would not be legal to replace the DSA measure with the county measure on the ballot if they did not adopt and repeal it.