Oakland measure to fund preschool, aid college graduation rates

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf is asking homeowners to pay about $200 a year to send more low-income kids to preschool and prepare older students for college.

Schaaf says Measure AA, the Oakland Children's Initiative, will expand access to quality, affordable preschool for every 4-year old from a low-income background in Oakland. It would also provide scholarships and financial aid to help boost high school and college graduation rates. 

She said it would help roughly 10,000 students in Oakland each year.

“What better investment can we make than in our children,’’ Schaaf said during a recent interview with KTVU. “

While assessments show that roughly 82 percent of white children in Oakland are considered “kindergarten-ready,” only 29 percent of Latino children and 36 percent of African-American kids are adequately prepared to start kindergarten. 

“Nobel prize winning economists will tell you: this is the best return on investment that anyone can make,’’ Schaaf said. “Early childhood education creates so much value in a child’s life and really for all of us within a community.”

Data also shows that only 15 percent of Oakland Unified School District graduates earn a college degree within five years after graduation.    

“(The measure) uses what is proven successful models of a cradle to career approach to really increase high school and college graduation rates,’’ Schaaf said. “And not just four-year colleges. Two-year colleges, trade schools. We want kids to be prepared for a variety of careers that will set them on a path of success.”

The initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot is a $198 annual parcel tax that would generate roughly $25 million in revenue each year for 30 years, with exemptions for low-income homeowners and seniors.  

“This is only paid for by property owners who arguably can afford it,’’ Schaaf said. 

Under the measure, two-thirds of the money will go for “high-quality preschool” with a priority for low -income 4 year olds. The remaining money will go to improve high school and college graduation and career readiness.

To make sure the money is spent correctly, the measure would create a new city staff position, funded by the tax revenue, to oversee spending.

It would also establish a Citizens' Oversight Commission with members appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Oakland City Council.

“(The measure) requires an audit, it requires oversight, it requires a citizens’ board that actually has more power than your average citizens’ board. There is a lot of accountability baked into this,’’ said Schaaf.

Critics say the measure is “deeply flawed” and does not provide enough accountability for spending.

“Lost in the details of the measure is the fact that the money can be used to fund the growing bureaucracy of the city,’’ wrote the five homeowner opponents who submitted an official argument against the initiative.

“We share the wonderful goals of this 15-page ballot measure. Unfortunately, we don't see any realistic steps to reaching them. ‘Give us the money and we'll figure out how to do it’ is not acceptable.”

The tax measure requires two-thirds of the vote to pass.