Oakland pledges to fund college for poor

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Oakland will launch a citywide effort Thursday to triple the number of college graduates coming out of public schools, an ambitious and expensive “cradle to career” plan that aims to reverse cycles of poverty and hopelessness by raising expectations that all children can thrive in school.

The centerpiece of the Oakland Promise initiative is an infusion of grants, ranging from $500 college savings accounts for children born into poverty to college scholarships of up to $16,000 for low-income students. The money is intended to provide both real and symbolic support, signaling to kids and their families that there’s an investment in their future.

According to officials, who have spent six months developing the initiative and will announce the details Thursday at Oakland High School, it will cost $38 million to ramp up the program over the first four years and up to $35 million annually to sustain it. The money is coming from sources including foundations, philanthropists, the city and the school district.

The effort is something of an experiment, because no other place in the country has this kind of comprehensive, long-term strategy to send more kids to college, city officials said. But the need is great in Oakland, where 10 percent of the city’s public-school ninth graders graduate college.

“Yes, this initiative is ambitious,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf. “All my life I’ve seen this as the one thing that has held Oakland back.”

Over the next 10 years, officials said, Oakland Promise plans to open 55,000 college savings accounts, provide $100 million in college scholarships and serve 200,000 students and families. Every City Council and school board member has endorsed it, as have 100 community organizations, two dozen university officials and 200 leaders including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

$25 million raised

While sustained funding is the central challenge, Oakland officials say they raised $25 million to launch the effort. The school district is expected to cover $1 million annually, and the city has committed $150,000, a number that may increase now that the initiative has begun, officials said.

The East Bay College Fund plans to contribute $1.5 million per year, while Kaiser Permanente and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. are giving $3 million and $1 million, respectively, to start up the program. Organizers will need $18 million more to cover the costs through 2020, an amount they say is reachable.

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