By Supt. Antwan Wilson
Here in the U.S., state government drives the majority of education funding and policy, so it is important to advocate in Sacramento for the needs of our community, schools, and children.
I recently traveled to Sacramento with Oakland Board of Education President James Harris and Vice President Nina Senn to push for more funding and better policies to support our vision of “Every Student Thrives!”
Our advocacy visit last week was the first by an Oakland superintendent, together with our locally elected board, in many years. In part we were there to “reintroduce” OUSD to lawmakers. People outside of Oakland often have preconceived notions of our community, and it is up to us to tell our story and advocate for Oakland’s children.
In the world of education, the preconceived notions can be even worse – with memories of state administration still fresh in some people’s minds. We laid out our long-range financial plan, which puts our schools on solid fiscal footing, meets all state obligations, and directs more money straight into schools and classrooms.
We also shared our views on how Sacramento can help us build stronger schools:
Addressing the Teacher Shortage: California is facing an unprecedented teacher shortage, and it is even more acute in places like Oakland, where housing costs are so high. We are partnering with our legislators to address this in multiple ways, including pushing for more affordable housing for our teachers, while maintaining high standards of quality and recruiting a diverse team of educators dedicated to meeting the needs of our students.
Expanding Early Childhood Education: Many of our students enter the K-12 system already behind their peers who enjoyed enriched early childhood education. We have to level the playing field by investing more in early childhood education. We advocated for support to expand programming for all children regardless of background. While there is no perfect proposal yet, we are pushing for a healthy policy discussion that can be informed by our local experience.
Increasing Funding: California remains around 46th in the nation in per pupil funding; 49th in student-to-teacher ratio. This is not acceptable in the state that has the eighth largest economy in the world. Doing more with less is not a long-term strategy for success. We discussed issues such as extending Proposition 30, the voter-approved tax measure that temporarily has helped increase school funding (we used to be 49th in the nation!), as well as how to redirect existing funding into the districts, schools, classrooms – and toward the kids – that need it most.
We are lucky to have a strong and progressive delegation representing the Oakland community, along with the support of the Governor, and education staff across state government who generally share our commitment to investing more in public education.
I was particularly energized after meeting with Assembly Members Rob Bonta and Tony Thurmond who are leading the charge for us to address our local needs. It was also fantastic to hear from Senator Loni Hancock, who is in her last term and offers important historical perspective.
It is extremely important for us all to band together to build a compelling coalition to realize our goals and ensure a quality education for each and every Oakland student.
I look forward to working with partners locally and across the state to live up to our aspirations to build not just a district, but a state where every student thrives, finding joy in their education, and graduating ready for college, career, and community success in the 21st Century!
Antwan Wilson is the Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District.