Oakland mayor announces college fund for low-income students

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced Thursday an ambitious effort to triple the number of low-income college graduates coming out of the city’s public schools.

Speaking at a ceremony at Oakland High School attended by several hundred students and community members as well as many dignitaries, Schaaf said the Oakland Promise program is needed because currently only 10 percent of Oakland public school students who start ninth grade complete college within five years of graduating from high school:

“It’s time to end the tyranny of low expectations and break down the barriers of hope that have kept our children down for too long … We will tell every parent that their child is brilliant and is destined for an amazing future.”

The mayor said over the next 10 years, Oakland Promise plans to open 55,000 college savings accounts with $14 million in funds for children born into poverty, award $100 million in scholarships and have 17,000 students enrolled in college.

Schaaf said grants will range from $500 college savings accounts for children born into poverty to college scholarships of up to $16,000 for low-income students:

“In 10 years, this bold initiative will triple the number of high school students who graduate to a career of their choice.”

Oakland Unified School District superintendent Antwan Wilson said:

“People are coming together behind a vision. We can make this into a powerful moment for Oakland.”

At key stages such as birth, kindergarten, high school and college, Oakland Promise aims to help parents and children prepare and save for college and connect them to support system and resources.

It will cost $38 million to run the program for the first four years and up to $35 million annually to sustain it, Schaaf said.

More than 100 community partners and large donors have contributed $25 million so far, Schaaf said.

Major donations includes $3.4 million from an anonymous donor, $3.5 million from Kaiser Permanente over three years, $1 million from PG&E over five years, $1.5 million annually from the East Bay College Fund and $1.25 million annually from Oakland Unified School District and the City of Oakland.

Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff said he’s donating $5.4 million to the “Brilliant Baby” component of the program, which provides $500 college savings accounts for every child born into poverty and $500 grants to parents of those children.

Benioff said:

“We all have to work for greater equity and education.”

According to city officials, nearly 20 percent of Oakland residents live at or below the poverty line and it hovers closer to 40 percent in parts of East Oakland.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said of the program:

“If we’re serious about closing the income gap, we must get serious about closing the opportunity gap and we know that begins with education … You can’t live a good life in an unjust society.”

University of California president Janet Napolitano said she’s hoping that the program will lead to more Oakland students attending the UC system’s campuses in the future.

Napolitano told the many students in the audience:

“You can join the 1,300 Oakland public school graduates who are now studying at UC.”

U.S. Department of Education Under Secretary Ted Mitchell praised what he said is “the boldness and breadth” of the plan:

“President Obama is looking carefully at what is happening here … You are changing the narrative and this is a cradle-to- career program.”