Oakland Unified pays students $50 a week to go to school

A pilot group of Oakland Unified School District students at seven school sites have been getting paid $50 a week – if they have perfect attendance.

The 10-week program, run by a group known as the Equitable Design Project, now has nearly 100 students enrolled, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, which first reported about the unusual incentive. 

To earn the money, students must attend class five days a week. High schoolers can't be late or cut class. If they do, they'll miss out on the cash. 

Students also must meet with a program leader, complete a short mental health and experience in the classroom assessment each week.

"Some students were saying things like, you know, I don't have money to catch the bus across town to get to school," Kevin "AJ" Goines, who works for OUSD's Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, told KTVU in an interview on Wednesday. "What do you say about that? That's not something that's theirs. That doesn't mean they don't care. That's not anything that their parents are doing to prevent them from coming to school. Those are just like economic or challenges that we have no answer to."

Created after COVID, the program aims to increase attendance. Schools receive state money when students actually show up to class, and so, if they are absent, the schools don't get that money. 

In 2022, 61% of Oakland Unified students missed at least 1 out of every 10 school days, the Chronicle reported. After two years of trying out this program, OUSD said absentism has been cut by half. 

The program is funded through a $200,000 grant from a national policy organization, Education First, as well as funds from the NoVo Foundation and Rockefeller Philanthropy, the Chronicle reported.