Researchers who want to attract investors to expand preschool for low-income families in Clatsop and Tillamook counties hope to begin a $2 million pilot study for up to 60 children as early as the fall of 2019.

Clatsop County received a Pay for Success grant in 2016 from the U.S. Department of Education to study the preschool needs, opportunities and challenges of the North Coast and the feasibility of expanding high-quality preschool.

The study was led by Dan Gaffney, a retired educator from Seaside, and researchers with Social Finance, a nonprofit focused on social issues. Way to Wellville, a community wellness challenge, secured a grant to bring in data scientists from the Sorenson Impact Center to look at connections between preschool and future academic success.

The study concluded that about 40 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds within 300 percent of the federal poverty level in Clatsop and Tillamook counties are not receiving preschool. The lack of preschool is particularly high among low-income students and English language learners. The quality of preschool in the counties also varies widely.

“There’s strong evidence that says when somebody has high-quality preschool, they do well in third grade, which is the No. 1 predictor of high school graduation,” Gaffney said. “But that means that they go on and they have higher earning power. They are actually paying taxes, as opposed to needing social services, which are supported by taxes.”

In the Pay for Success model, also known as social impact bonds, private investors pay for social programs and get repaid with interest if those programs save the public money. If the public savings are not realized, investors lose some or all of their money. The model has been used in several places around the country, including Illinois, Utah and Colorado.

The ultimate hope locally is that investors will pay for around 300 preschool slots. The goal had been 600, Gaffney said, but researchers cut out 3-year-olds because of the increased regulations and costs associated with transporting the younger children.

The study recommended a three-year, locally funded pilot study offering high-quality preschool for up to 60 additional 4- and 5-year-olds annually to establish a successful track record before seeking out investors. The pilot program would be overseen by the Northwest Early Learning Hub. The hub is part of the Northwest Regional Education Service District providing support services to school districts.

The pilot program could cost about $2 million, including transporting students and increasing the professional development and pay of preschool teachers, Gaffney said. The hope is that much of the cost can be covered by in-kind contributions from entities such as school districts and state groups involved in early childhood education.

Gaffney is pursuing a Meyer Memorial Trust grant to fine-tune a pilot model and develop the partnerships to pay for it.

Astoria, Warrenton and Jewell have all added in-house preschools in recent years. Craig Hoppes, the superintendent in Astoria, said his school district offers 21 preschool slots in-house but is looking at all options to expand the opportunity to all children before they reach kindergarten.

“We know that kids in our preschool program perform very well” in kindergarten, he said.

Despite the high cost of implementing high-quality preschool, the study concluded, society would save more long term by improved academic performance, higher lifetime earnings, reduced chronic health issues, less need for social services and less potential involvement in the criminal justice system.

“Over a child’s lifetime, there would be savings of about $14,500,” Gaffney said.

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