Vice President Kamala Harris returned to her hometown Friday to join Mayor Libby Schaaf and other city leaders to announce a new college fund for low-income students. Credit: Amir Aziz

Alongside Vice President Kamala Harris, Mayor Libby Schaaf on Friday announced a significant investment in college access for low-income Oakland students through 2035.

Over the next four years, the $50 million Generation Fund will establish college savings accounts for all Oakland infants from low-income families, and yearly $1,000 scholarships for all Oakland public school students from low-income families to pursue a college degree or trade certificate. The fund is expected to serve 30,000 Oakland youth by 2035 through Oakland Promise, an organization that Schaaf launched in 2016. It’s a major expansion of two existing programs within Oakland Promise.

“Our city believes so much in the brilliance and talent of our children that we have raised a $50 million fund to invest in their futures,” Schaaf said Friday to a crowd gathered at Generation Thrive, the Golden State Warriors’ downtown Oakland facility. “We, your city, your community, believe in your talent, your grit, and your success, so much. We know that these last years have been so hard.”

In brief remarks, Vice President Harris touted the administration’s work in reducing healthcare, education, and economic disparities through the child tax credit and funding for reopening schools, and the Inflation Reduction Act, which the U.S. House is expected to vote on today. Harris also praised Oakland, her hometown.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf speaks on stage with Stella Harrison, a second grader at Melrose Leadership Academy, during the Generation Fund announcement. Credit: Amir Aziz

“I was born just up the street at Kaiser Oakland. And I stand before you today as Vice President of the United States,” she said. “This journey was possible because I, growing up in this community, had the blessing and good fortune of being in a place that believed in investing in the potential of its children.”

Harris was born in Oakland and attended elementary school in Berkeley. She began her career in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office before serving as the District Attorney of San Francisco, Attorney General of California, and as a U.S. Senator for California. 

During the launch event Friday, Schaaf was also joined by Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell and Oakland Promise CEO Sandra Ernst. Each thanked the efforts of community members, foundations, and their own organizations for building a village to support Oakland youth. 

“None of us can do it on our own,” Johnson-Trammell said. “Our hope is that other communities around the country will do the same.”

In 2021, 31% of OUSD seniors enrolled in a four-year college within one year of graduating, and 22% of seniors enrolled in a two-year college. For low-income students, 48% enrolled in a two or four-year college within one year, compared with 66% of students who do not come from low-income families. 

“No low-income families should have to struggle financially on whether or not their kids should go to college,” said Natalie Gallegos Chavez, a senior at Oakland High School and student director on the OUSD school board. 

Oakland Promise provides financial support to Oakland students for college through the Brilliant Baby program, which creates college savings accounts for Oakland infants, and scholarships for high school and college students. Oakland Promise also provides financial literacy training for families so they can maintain the savings account, college and career workshops, and counseling. 

The Generation Fund received major support from Kaiser Permanente, the San Francisco Foundation, and anonymous and individual donors.

One of Schaaf’s priorities during her tenure has been using partnerships and philanthropy to expand education access in Oakland. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, her office launched Oakland Undivided, a campaign to provide laptops and internet access to students in Oakland, in collaboration with OUSD, Oakland Promise, the Oakland Public Education Fund, and Tech Exchange. Her office has also been part of the Oakland Teacher Residency Program, which aims to offset the cost of housing in Oakland and improve retention rates for educators. The program, which can accommodate 30 people, provides subsidized housing and a monthly stipend to educators who are completing a student teaching program and pursuing their teaching credential.

Ashley McBride reports on education equity for The Oaklandside. She covered the 2019 Oakland Unified School District teachers’ strike as a breaking news reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. More recently, she was an education reporter for the San Antonio Express-News where she covered several local school districts, charter schools, and the community college system. McBride earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University, has held positions at the Palm Beach Post and the Poynter Institute, and is a recent Hearst Journalism Fellow.