Clatsop County commissioners want more time to consider a universal preschool feasibility study.

In a 3-2 vote, commissioners decided Wednesday not to approve a $350,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education that would fund the study. In more than 1 1/2 hours of deliberations, commissioners’ concerns included the possible privatization of preschools and lack of familiarity with the study.

Commissioners agreed to discuss the issue again in two weeks.

Way to Wellville has partnered with the county on the research. The study would collect data to determine whether free preschool for 600 low-income children would be possible. At the end of the study, commissioners would vote on whether to approve a “pay for success” model that would encourage investors to fund the program or fund the preschool another way, if at all.

Should a pay for success program be approved, the estimated money saved by the county from the benefits of having more children attend preschool — $13 for every $1 invested, according to one national study — would outweigh the cost, project manager Dan Gaffney said. The money saved by the county would then be awarded to the investor with interest.

Children eligible for the program would include those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, fall underneath 300 percent of the federal poverty level or are learning English.

But commissioners were concerned about the idea that a large corporation or wealthy donor would be involved in funding public preschools. A similar program in Salt Lake City, for instance, was funded by Goldman Sachs.

“The fact that we need a global corporation to buoy our early childhood education system is sad,” Commission Chairman Scott Lee said. “Corporations are using it to go through a back door. I’m worried that this is going to take us down a dark path.”

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