In response to the threat of Oakland school closures, Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan, Council President Nikki Bas, Councilmember Carroll Fife, and President Pro Tempore Sheng Thao introduced a resolution calling upon Governor Newsom and the State Legislature to eliminate OUSD’s outstanding state debt to prevent closures, and amend state law to revise the Average Daily Attendance formula to remove penalizing schools when children are sick. At the Rules and Legislation committee Thursday February 4th, 2022, the committee voted to schedule the resolution to the February 15, 2022, Council meeting.
On January 31st, 2022, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) revealed its plan to either close or merge 16 of the district’s 80 schools. The proposed closures have sent shockwaves throughout the community, galvanizing students, teachers, and families to oppose the proposed closures. School closures can have and have had a detrimental effect on communities of color across the city, and specifically on Black communities. OUSD has a history of disproportionately impacting majority Black schools for closure, closing 16 majority Black schools in two decades. Unfortunately, the list of schools slated for closures currently is no exception - with all eight schools proposed for closure being majority Black schools.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound impacts on our school system, disrupting students' lives and ability to learn, creating difficult and stressful environments for Oakland teachers, students, and families, and intensifying existing issues around equity within our schools.
However, due to the enduring strain of partially-paid state loans, the district is proposing school closures as a means to balance their budget during this already turbulent time. Yet, research shows that cost savings from school closures are generally limited, particularly in the short term, and the task of putting closed buildings to productive use is extremely difficult.
With California anticipating a $45.7 billion surplus for the 2022-23 fiscal year, eliminating OUSD’s remaining state debt through state funding would require an infinitesimal amount, less than one fifteenth of a percent, of the State’s operating surplus.
In addition to eliminating OUSD’s debt, more must be done structurally to address how we fund public schools in California. Currently, the State’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) allocates funding to school districts based on their average daily attendance—the average number of students in class each day throughout the school year. However, the ongoing effects of the pandemic—such as student and staff quarantines, challenges implementing remote learning, impacts of months of lost or insufficient instructional time, and stress and trauma from the pandemic and social isolation—continue to affect school attendance levels. According to a survey by the California Collaborative for Education Excellence, 90% of school districts experienced declines in attendance in 2020-21, and districts also reported spikes in increased chronic absenteeism.
Therefore, this resolution seeks to protect our schools, community and public health by urging the Governor and State Legislature to amend the state budget to protect our hardest hit communities by preventing school closures and eliminating debt, amend state law and revise the Average Daily Attendance formula to remove penalizing schools when students are sick, and direct the City Administrator to send a copy of the Resolution to Governor Newsom, Senator Nancy Skinner, Assemblymembers Mia Bonta and Buffy Wicks, and Oakland’s lobbyist.
Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan stated: “Many years ago, the State of California took over control of the Oakland public schools, which they claimed was for the purpose of fixing the finances. Sadly, the State officials controlling OUSD ran up debt, leaving the schools worse off financially. Now that California has a record-breaking budget surplus, it is all the more unjust that our youth and families should be made to suffer by cutting their schools, to pay off debt that was run up by State officials. School closures are bad for students, families, community cohesion, and public health. Therefore, the State should take action in their budget to end the school debt, and protect hard-hit communities from school closures.”
“While the State of California is celebrating a record budget surplus, Oakland schools are being forced to close due to state debt and funding formulas that don’t recognize the impacts of COVID-19. These schools serve thousands of Oakland students, most in underserved black and brown neighborhoods.” explained Council President Pro Tempore Sheng Thao, “Like many Oakland parents, I am outraged by these proposed closures and it is absolutely essential the state step in to save Oakland schools and ensure our students get a quality education. Anything less than immediate action could result in irreversible damage to our public schools, their staff, and Oakland’s students.”
“As an OUSD parent, an educator and organizer and advocate around issues impacting OUSD students for more than two decades, I find it heartbreaking and unconscionable, but not surprising, that the District is considering shuttering community schools that serve majority Black and Brown students. As a society the decisions we make reflect ohur values and what is being said with these potential closures is that these kids, their education, their communities, and their futures don’t matter. With tens of billions of dollars in California budget surplus, this issue could disappear instantly. We have the power to make slogans real and are calling on the district to end all closures and the State to stop underfunding and penalizing our schools and to eliminate OUSD’s outstanding debt” stated Councilmember Carroll Fife
Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas stated, "The impacts of COVID-19 have been devastating for our communities of color, especially for our families and young people. It is objectionable that thousands of our hardest-hit students and neighborhoods -- primarily Black and Brown -- are facing the threat of further destabilization through these proposed school closures. We urge the state's partnership in protecting our students' right to a quality education, and preserving critical places of learning, cultural connection, and community."