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Outgoing Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf touted the expansion of affordable preschool for the city’s children most in need of it, in her final news conference on Wednesday.
The implementation of the Oakland Children’s Initiative comes after the city won a court battle over Measure AA, the parcel tax measure approved by voters in 2018 to fund early education and college readiness.
The measure authorizes the city to collect $198 a year in parcel tax on single-family homes, and $135 a year per unit of each multiunit residence, totaling about $35 million annually over the next 30 years. About two-thirds of the funds will go toward early childhood education and the other third toward college tuition assistance.
Schaaf said she hopes the long-term investment will make an impact for generations to come.
“To parents, I hope you each feel a burden lifted off your shoulders, that preschool will be affordable for all children in Oakland, that college will be accessible and affordable … this is something you should expect from your government and, more importantly, from your community,” she said.
Jorge Lerma, chair of a commission in charge of providing oversight for the distribution of funds, said the initiative will first target the children who need it most before expanding the preschool program to all of Oakland’s young children.
That means about 6,000 of the city’s 14,000 children who are between 3 and 5 years old will be given first dibs on access to Head Start and preschool programs operated by Oakland Unified School District because they come from lower-income households, said Jennifer Cabán, accountability officer for the Children’s Initiative.
She said her team will then expand access to the city’s mixed-delivery system of child care, ranging from nonprofit-run early childhood programs to home-based family child care programs.
Schaaf noted that the initiative was one of several recent programs benefiting Oakland’s children, including Oakland Promise, a $50 million privately raised endowment to set up college savings accounts for infants and scholarships for public school students from lower-income families. She also mentioned Oakland Undivided, an effort borne out of the pandemic to provide home internet access to public school students who didn’t have any.
The city temporarily suspended collecting the parcel tax after a group of property owners sought to invalidate the measure. But last year, a California appeals court in San Francisco ruled that the tax could be reinstated.
Another measure to add a 0.5% sales tax in Alameda County to fund more subsidized child care and pediatric health care for children from lower-income families is still being contested in court.
Both measures are examples of increasing public investment in early childhood education. The lack of affordable, high-quality early childhood programs, particularly for families with lower incomes, have prompted local governments to create dedicated funding streams for early learning.
Across the bay, officials in San Francisco are using funds raised from a commercial rent tax voters passed in 2018 to raise teachers’ salaries and subsidy rates (PDF) for child care and early intervention services.