Voter guides stacked on a table
Voter information guides line a table at the West Oakland branch library. Credit: Amir Aziz

Two education-related ballot measures will be presented to Oakland voters in November.

The first is Measure H, a renewal of an existing parcel tax for Oakland Unified School District. Initially approved in 2014 as Measure N, the college and career-readiness initiative raises about $12 million each year for Oakland high schools. The programs it funds allow students to choose from a range of industries or “pathways”—like engineering, health care, construction, arts and media, and more—and take classes and intern in those fields throughout their high school years. 

While the career pathways, also called academies, existed in Oakland high schools prior to Measure N, the parcel tax has allowed the programs to expand and serve more students.

The tax supports salaries for pathway coaches, college and career specialists, and internship coordinators, pays for field trips to colleges and job sites for specific pathways, stipends for student internships, supplies and technology, and other costs. 

Measure H would maintain the current tax amount of $120 per parcel for 14 years, expiring in 2037. 

The original goal of Measure N was to increase graduation rates, lower drop-out rates, and reduce disparities in pathway enrollment. Measure supporters also hoped it would lead to students being better prepared to attend college after high school, and increase the number of students meeting the admission requirements for California state colleges. 

“Every kid in Oakland deserves the opportunity to follow their passion and to have a career so they can come back and contribute to their community,” said Ayo Akatugba, a science teacher and director of the green-energy pathway at Skyline High School, during a forum about Measure H last week. “They all deserve that opportunity to succeed in life. And I believe that we should do all we can to provide for them.”

Zara Ahsan, a junior in Skyline’s green-energy pathway, spoke about the support she received while conducting research at UCSF during her summer internship this year. With help from OUSD’s ECCCO (Explore College, Career & Community Options) program, Zara learned how to write a resume, communicate with her supervisors, track her hours, and other job skills that students may not be exposed to until after high school.

“I had a teacher from Skyline who was checking up on me and the kids in my internship and made sure that I was doing alright,” Zara said. “I’m worried that if Measure H doesn’t pass, the next kid who applies for that internship will go into that and not have any of those safety nets. Those systems were able to make it a really awesome learning experience for me, and I hope that other people will have the same experiences.”

Since the district began receiving Measure N funding, OUSD’s graduation rate has increased, from about 64% in 2015 to 72% in 2021. For Black students, the rate increased from 61% to about 76%. Latino student graduation rates grew from 57% to 64%, and Pacific Islander students also increased their graduation rate from 54% to 72% in 2021. The overall percentage of students dropping out decreased from 24% during the 2014-2015 school year to about 13% during the 2020-2021 school year.

OUSD has also seen significant gains in the number of high school students enrolled in a career pathway. In 2015, about 50% of students in the 10th-12th grades were enrolled in a pathway. In 2021, nearly 88% were. The percentage of low-income students, or those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, has risen from 56% to 89%—a higher percentage than students who don’t qualify for free or reduced-price lunch (84%).

Although the original tax, Measure N, doesn’t expire until 2025, the school board voted to put Measure H on this year’s ballot so that if it doesn’t pass, they’ll have an opportunity to try again with a similar renewal measure in 2024. The parcel tax funding is overseen by a civilian oversight committee that evaluates each school’s spending plan to ensure it is related to student outcomes. 

With continued funding, district leaders hope to reach 100% student participation in the school pathways, and establish more bridges between middle schools and high schools so that students are exposed to the programs earlier.

Measure H requires approval by two-thirds of voters to pass.

Measure S

Earlier this year, Oakland councilmembers Dan Kalb and Treva Reid brought forward a ballot measure that would allow noncitizen parents to vote in OUSD school board elections. 

In the U.S., only adult citizens—those who were born here or who have gone through the naturalization process—are allowed to vote in federal elections. That generally applies to local elections as well, but some municipalities have begun to change their local laws to enfranchise more people. In Oakland, about 13,000 people who are undocumented or have legal residency but not citizenship could gain the right to vote in their district school board elections if this measure passes. It would only apply to those who are the parent or legal caregiver of a child.

“We are voting for our children’s education. We are not asking for something that’s out of this world,” said Katya Caballero, a mom of an elementary student and a high schooler in Oakland. “We’re asking to have the same privilege that [others] have. Many people have that privilege and they don’t use it. We want it and we are not able to use it.”

Measure S is part of a larger trend in Oakland and the Bay Area of gradually expanding voting rights to groups that traditionally have been excluded. In 2020, Oakland voters approved Measure QQ, which enables the City Council to amend the city charter to lower the voting age to 16 in school board races, a move the city of Berkeley also made in 2016 with Measure Y1. In both those cases, youth have yet to cast a vote because of barriers to updating the county voting system. San Francisco voters approved a measure in 2018 enabling its noncitizen population to vote in school board races, and city leaders in San Jose are exploring a similar change.

Initiatives to enfranchise residents who aren’t citizens have recently come under scrutiny by some conservative groups that argue such moves violate the California state constitution, which states that adult citizens who live in the state may vote.

In July, a judge ruled that the San Francisco measure was unconstitutional—a decision that was put on hold weeks later by an appeals court, allowing the measure to stand for the upcoming election. The same groups also filed a lawsuit against Oakland in August to remove Measure S from the ballot, but an Alameda County judge later ruled that the measure is allowed to go to the voters.

Oakland Unified School District enrolls nearly 2,700 newcomer students, or students who have immigrated to the U.S. within the last three years. Half of OUSD students speak a language other than English at home, and a third of students are English-language learners. 

Measure S has support from community groups across Oakland, including GO Public Schools Advocates, the Oakland Education Association, Oakland Literacy Coalition, Priority Africa Network, and Education Trust West. 

“This country at the moment has a big immigrant community that is growing and giving back here in the city of Oakland. We have people that are coming from El Salvador and Guatemala giving to the economy of this country,” said Reyna Facundo, a mom of four. “We as immigrant parents want our children to be people who give back to society.”

Measure S requires a simple majority to pass.

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.