The Education Promise

I just returned from the launch of the Oakland Promise.  I commend Mayor Schaaf, Superintendent Wilson, their staffs and all in the community who have helped to design and launch this important effort. The event was inspiring and the ideas behind it are essential to establish a culture of expectation for college completion that our children so desperately need – an expectation to compete with visions of sports and entertainment careers, or visions of failure and death. The Oakland Promise creates an infrastructure to ensure that expectations are met with support from cradle to career, from the brilliant babies programs to the college and parent savings accounts to the college centers to the scholarships and post-enrollment supports. These programs all provide a structure to convert the promise into reality. Urban Strategies Council has signed on as a champion and will support its successful implementation. We urge other organizations to do so as well.

But for Oakland’s Education Promise to reach its full potential, this community needs to make two other promises and to pursue them with similar commitments of resources and cooperative leadership: the economic security promise and the safety promise. The success of the education promise depends on the economic security and safety of children, their families and their neighborhoods.


The Economic Security Promise:

As we all know, Oakland has a terrible and worsening housing affordability crisis. Some recent estimates rank Oakland as the 4th most expensive rental market in the nation and Oakland’s rent increases have outpaced those of San Francisco, one of the most expensive rental markets in the nation. Meanwhile, even with recent increases in minimum wages, earnings are insufficient to cover the cost of housing in Oakland. Even households earning the Median Household Income ($51,851) would need to devote 55.4% of their earnings to housing based on the median rent for an apartment in Oakland ($2,444) – making a typical Oakland household “extremely housing-cost burdened.” At Oakland minimum wage ($12.55 per hour), a worker would have to work 150 hours per week, or 3.7 full time jobs, to afford a median priced two-bedroom apartment.

While we are encouraged by improvements in job training programs and the increase in employment in the Bay Area, the market is not producing a sufficient number of sustainable wage jobs nor is it possible to “train up” sufficient numbers of low wage workers to provide the estimated $84,864 annual income needed to afford the median rent in Oakland. Elected officials, business leaders, faith leaders, community-based organization leaders and other stakeholders need to come together to have an honest conversation about employment and affordable housing create plans that will make immediate and substantial impact on sustainable wage employment and maintaining and expanding affordable housing, and to commit public and private resources to that plan.


The Safety Promise:

Critically important to the Oakland many of us envision is a city where people feel and are safe, and where homicides, shootings and robberies are rare. While the city has made substantial progress in recent years, we remain among the leaders in the state and nation in our rates of violent crime. Our levels of violence disrupt our education and economic security efforts and have an unmeasured impact on the mental and physical health of residents who are directly and indirectly affected by violence.


The Ingredients of Good Promises

Noteworthy to me about the structure of the Oakland Education Promise are the following:

  • Two or more visionary public system leaders working together to launch an effort but inviting a broad cross-section of the community to own it with them
  • Reliance on data and evidence to drive the identification and selection of solutions
  • A numerical statement of desired outcomes that is at a scale to be transformative for the community
  • Recognition that a single, isolated intervention is not sufficient but a continuum of care and sustained action is required
  • Major, long term investments of public institutions, corporations and philanthropy are required to finance the sustained efforts it will take to produce results

How can we bring to bear the same elements of the Oakland Education Promise to create economic security and safety promises? How can we mobilize the needed resources and catalyze the community commitment to make those promises as well?

The Mayor and the Superintendent, along with the Council President and Police Chief, co-chair the Mayor’s Safety Plan Advisory Committee. Is it possible to bring the same dynamic leadership and energy that created the education promise to bear on creating the safety promise? Who are the leaders who take the bold steps to convene us to create the plan for economic security—perhaps the most difficult of the promises we must make?