An Update on Preschool for All Multnomah County with Leslee Barnes


by Rafael Otto




On this segment of The Early Link, we’re following up with Leslee Barnes, director of the Preschool and Early Learning Division at Multnomah County, who gives us an update on the implementation of Preschool for All (PFA) in Multnomah County. Barnes is a fourth-generation Oregonian who grew up in Northeast Portland, and a leading figure working alongside commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson, in the development of Preschool for All which was approved by voters in November 2020.


In our conversation with Leslee Barnes, she talks about the demands, challenges, successes, and surprises in the implementation of Preschool for All. She also discusses how culturally and linguistically diverse providers are supported in their participation, and ultimately whether PFA will help everyone involved. This includes the growing educational workforce, which would ideally reflect the diversity of families. The conversation then shifts to a discussion around facilities. Specifically, knowing that the lack of them was a roadblock in getting PFA off the ground and how they will be supported this time around. Barnes also covers the PFA rollout and how the upcoming ban on suspension and expulsion could potentially interrelate, plus how lessons learned at these early stages could inform statewide work and potential expansions to other counties.


[00:00:00] Rafael Otto: Hi everyone. This is the Early Link Podcast. I’m Rafael Otto. Thanks for tuning in each week. I hope you do on Sundays at 4:30 PM. We are broadcasting on 99.1 FM in the Portland Metro, you can find us streaming there as well. Or you can tune in at your convenience wherever you find your podcasts, including iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon Music, and as always on our website at

Today, I’m speaking with Leslee Barnes, director of the Preschool and Early Learning Division at Multnomah County. She is a fourth generation Oregonian who grew up in Northeast Portland and she has been a leading figure, working alongside others in the community, including Commissioner Jessica Vega Peterson in the development of Preschool for All which was approved by voters in November of 2020. Things have come a long way since then. And we’re looking to get an update and just talk about what Preschool for All looks like today.

Leslee, welcome to the podcast.

[00:00:58] Leslee Barnes: Thanks for having me. Good to be back and give you kind of what’s hot and happening right now in the world of Preschool for All.

[00:01:05] Rafael Otto: Yeah, it’s great to have you back on here. You know, this has been really like, a groundbreaking measure that was passed, with a tax to go along with it, to fund Preschool for All and the expansion of facilities and those kinds of things. Really not just in Oregon, but nationally, this is really kind of the first of its kind in the country structured in this way

So just give us an update as to where things are right now, as we’re beginning to roll out. I know there was the initial application process that rolled out recently. Where’re things at?

[00:01:38] Leslee Barnes: Well, yeah, so that application became live to the public back in April, and we got an astounding 1100 applications from families. We have about 675 slots so we’re in the midst of looking at those applications, sorting, matching. I mean, there’s a lot to think about when you’re thinking about what families want, what’s available right now in this leg of our implementation.

So that’s where we’re kind of at right now. I’m really hoping that, our initial thoughts that parents would get notification of their choice and ability to be matched in July. But we’re thinking that might come actually a little bit sooner. So, that’s where we’re at right now. So it’s pretty…

[00:02:17] Rafael Otto: So demand has been high.

[00:02:19] Leslee Barnes: Very high, very high, yes. But you know, not surprising, right? This has been something the community said they wanted it, needed it for a long time. So it’s aligned to what we had hoped would happen.

Please download the full transcript below.


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