We talk a lot about nuanced versions of equity in Oakland but don’t live them. Case and point OUSD’s $120/per student across the board budget cuts visited to Hills and Flatlands schools alike. All schools are treated equally which is incredibly inequitable. Let me explain.
We have a system where some schools can easily absorb cuts and others may bleed out. Oakland has some schools that raise a half million annually from their PTA’s and can and did raise more cash quickly through school based campaigns without families really sacrificing, while other schools can raise just over nothing from their families, with families giving all they can.
We have all seen that drawing of the three youth of different heights standing behind a fence, with some seeing over it and others being blocked—they are all treated equally, but inequitably. Similarly here we can take a pound of flesh from every family equally, but some don’t have a pound to give and others have tons of excess. That’s a serious equity problem and a one size fits all buzzsaw won’t fix it.
Who Really Feels the Budget Cuts
The families with the most resources can cushion their relatively low needs schools from cuts, while high needs schools with low income families feel cuts that go to the bone. Equal treatment is not equity. And until we start to have better conversation about the actual effects of cuts we should not think a simplistic formula will serve students and families or the system overall.
Some communities are rightly worried about delays in the construction at their school site and its impact on “puzzle time.” Other families complain about classes being collapsed and middle schoolers sitting in elementary school classes because there isn’t a qualified teacher for them. Both are valid complaints, but one pales in severity compared to the other. And we should not treat them equally.
OUSD has many quality schools, working hard, but just making it. It also has a few high performing and wealthy schools, and while they aren’t cruising, they have a very different situation. You hear this at the OUSD board meetings, more affluent families assure that their school will be relatively fine, while they worry about schools that can’t raise outside money. Flatlands schools without resources just bemoan the cuts.
Different neighborhoods, different problems
International Community School is one such school, filling a critical niche as a dual immersion school, and showing real progress in both math and ELA. But the cuts threaten to undermine important programs, and unlike some other schools, there aren’t deep pocketed families to come to the rescue. I spoke with a community member there who shared the impact and also a fundraiser to help blunt these reductions.
And we ain’t talking about luxuries, or “puzzle time.” The cuts are going to the basic program development and the things that students need to be successful including,
IMMEDIATE LOSS of after-school programs, support staff, access to technology, field trips, and many of the enrichment activities that make their schooling experience enjoyable and equitable.
Practically there are large cuts to essential materials, the professional development needed to implement a strong program and equally critical planning time.
Our students need these programs, and our educators need the support to be successful—and all of this is being cut. And despite the best efforts of the community, the current fundraising effort had raised less than $2,500 of the $34,000 needed to restore cut funding.
Breaking from History
We need to think more clearly about equity in Oakland. The district will undermine valuable programs that could have otherwise made it, and hasten its own demise if it makes the wrong cuts.
And let’s be real, that is the history, it’s always schools full of poor Black and Brown kids that close, it’s always those schools that get the short end of the equity stick. We don’t have the time energy organization of money to make our voices heard like others can, and we inevitably are left with scraps after the big dogs eat.
And despite a lot of equity talk from the big dogs, it’s still the same scraps.
A better way to share burdens
It’s Christmas time, so I need to get a little New Testament on this one, from the Gospel of Luke
[21:1] As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.  “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
We have many “poor widows” in Oakland who have always been asked “to put in more than all the others” and are being asked to give just as much as the rich. We need to do better.
And if you want to help out one of our “widows” please donate to our Flatlands schools, volunteer, or if you are privileged enough to be in a school that can raise significant funding maybe share some of that with a sister school. Even if the district won’t make real on equity talk we as individuals and organizations can. And I know the ICS community would appreciate any help they can get, so please give or share if you can.