Selective Criticisms on Philanthrocapitalism in Oakland

When district reforms like common enrollment come up, OUSD is besieged by arguments about how outsiders are driving policy.  And until we can pay for these things ourselves we shouldn’t do them.

Funny to hear the deafening silence from critics around outside funding when they agree with the spending.

Case in point: the Oakland Promise, which will provide college savings accounts and college payments for students, and is paid almost exclusively through philanthropy. I don’t see protesters decrying this initiative for its outside funding or the impact that billionaires and corporations are having on it.

Here’s a quote from the Chronicle article today describing the program.

$25 million raised

While sustained funding is the central challenge, Oakland officials say they raised $25 million to launch the effort. The school district is expected to cover $1 million annually, and the city has committed $150,000, a number that may increase now that the initiative has begun, officials said.

The East Bay College Fund plans to contribute $1.5 million per year, while Kaiser Permanente and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. are giving $3 million and $1 million, respectively, to start up the program. Organizers will need $18 million more to cover the costs through 2020, an amount they say is reachable.

“It will be on us to make the case that eventually this would be one of the smartest public investments that any city could make,” Schaaf said.

That investment includes the $500 college fund for each child born into poverty — with eligibility tied to the same government standards that apply to free and reduced-price school lunches — as well as a $100 college account for every kindergartner, high school counseling centers and up to $16,000 in scholarships that come with individual mentors and support through college.

So let’s be honest, I don’t think it’s really about outside funding (as we argued elsewhere all new initiatives in CA and Oakland need outside funding because the state woefully underfunds schools). It’s about policies.

If you don’t like policies or policy proposals, just say that. If there is some nefarious relationship between funders and policy call those out. But this idea that anytime Oakland is getting outside money to drive reforms that those are necessarily tainted is garbage.

So for all those decrying the wholesale influence of philanthropy in Oakland—go and protest scholarships for low income kids, and while you are at it, picket the public libraries (spearheaded by the robber barons back in the day—Carnegie, I believe).

But if you are not going to do that, then let’s just get honest. You don’t like some of the reform proposals, fine, let’s talk policy going forward, rather than these shifting and inconsistent attacks on philanthropy that seem much more about personal preferences than a principled stand.

What do you think?

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