Clatsop County will study investor-funded preschool (Daily Astorian)

By Edward Stratton

The North Coast is one of eight places chosen by the U.S. Department of Education to investigate the viability of free preschool funded by investors.

Clatsop County will administer the $350,000 Preschool Pay for Success feasibility grant. Researchers with groups like the Way to Wellville and the P-3 Early Learning Council will start in April looking at the preschool needs in Clatsop and Tillamook counties.

“Our dream would be to add 600 high-quality preschool spots” in the two counties, said Dan Gaffney, a retired educator and an author of the county’s grant.

Gaffney is the chairman of Way to Wellville’s strategic advisory council and heads the P-3 group, which has focused on improving education preschool through third grade.

He said the study, which will last six to nine months, will look at providing subsidized preschool for families within 300 percent of the federal poverty level, whether to provide transportation and how to adequately compensate and train preschool teachers.

“No. 1, this will be based upon curriculum that is research-based,” Gaffney said. “And we also want to make sure we have good involvement by families.”

Gaffney said researchers will reach out to existing preschool providers to gauge their interest in taking part. The grant could also help with preschool in Columbia County, part of a regional Early Learning Hub also covering Clatsop and Tillamook counties.

Investing in the future

Local Way to Wellville Coordinator Sydney Van Dusen said the national wellness group learned about the Pay for Success grants through an organizer on the East Coast.

Pay for Success financing partners service providers, such as preschools, with philanthropic and private sector investors to fund improved services. The government entity receiving the investment promises to pay the money back with interest to the investors if the improved services lead to cost savings. If not, the investors lose some or all of the investment.

Investment firm Goldman Sachs and venture capitalist J.B. Pritzker funded 600 spots in public and private preschool programs in 2013, according to the Salt Lake City Tribune. Of the first cohort of kids, 110 4-year-olds were expected to need special education. The investors were to receive 95 percent of any savings on special education for funding preschool.

Only one student needed special education services after attending two years of preschool. Utah’s public education system avoided $281,000 in special education costs, and a $267,000 check was cut to the investors.

A similar funding model has been used for programs lowering criminal recidivism and homelessness.

Implementation

After six to nine months of studying the region’s needs, Gaffney said, organizers will engage with an organization that develops and manages Pay for Success projects and the social impact bonds that fund them.

“Once we complete the feasibility study, we’ll be within six months of implementation,” Van Dusen said. “In the middle of 2018 we’d be getting it ready to go.”

The 2018-19 school year would be the earliest investor-funded preschool could happen.