Making Our Schools Worthy of Their Students
I wouldn’t be writing this platform, I wouldn’t be running for Mayor if it weren’t for our San Francisco public schools. As a child, I walked with my friends to Rosa Parks Elementary and then to Ben Franklin Middle School. I rode Muni to Galileo High School. And thanks to amazing teachers who believed in me and supported me along the way, I was able to matriculate to another public school: the University of California at Davis. (I did go to one private school later, earning my Master’s from the University of San Francisco.)
As a grateful alumna of the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), I know we have a world-class public education system in this city. And we have so much to be proud of.
Our 136 elementary, middle, and high schools teach over 55,000 students, with a District budget of nearly $1 billion — that is supplemented in no small part by local tax dollars. Our students’ math and English proficiency exceeds California’s average and far exceeds almost every other large urban district in the state. We have some of the most innovative and longest-running language immersion programs in the country, and students in San Francisco receive instruction in Chinese, Tagalog, Spanish, Korean, Italian, and Japanese, as well as English. The vast majority of our students report feeling both safe and happy at school most or all of the time. And we have greatly reduced classroom size, so that no class from kindergarten through third grade exceeds 22 students.
We’ve also made significant strides in the upper grades. Ruth Asawa School of the Arts has become a California Distinguished School and sends up to 10% of its graduating students to arts schools and conservatories. Lowell High School, the longest-serving public high school west of the Mississippi, consistently ranks one of the best public high schools in the country. Our schools even host edible gardens, and time and again, the City has funded arts and other enrichment programs with local dollars when state funding fell short.
But while we have much to celebrate, there is also much we must improve. Unfortunately, our schools are more segregated than they were thirty years ago when I was a student. We have a persistent achievement gap, with African-American and Latino students underperforming their peers in school and dropping out of school at higher rates. Declining enrollment among wealthier (and frankly white) families has sapped resources from our public schools at a time when costs continue to rise.
And as with so many challenges we face in San Francisco, all roads lead to housing again. The housing crisis has had a dramatic impact on our teachers: the dedicated people who are educating our next generation of entrepreneurs, engineers, police officers, doctors, and nurses, cannot afford to live in the communities they serve. Not only that, but we pay lower salaries than many neighboring cities, making it harder for us to attract and retain the best educators.
What Can the Mayor Do?
Unlike New York and Chicago for example, where the Mayor is in charge of public education, the Mayor of San Francisco has no direct authority over our public schools (nor does the Board of Supervisors). Our schools are governed by the seven members of the Board of Education who are elected directly by the voters, hire the Superintendent, and set the District’s budget. So what can the Mayor do to improve our schools? A lot actually.
The Mayor can — and as your Mayor I will — launch related policies that support our schools, such as my commitment to build 5,000 new homes each year and expand affordable housing so teachers can afford to live here. The Mayor can protect and expand the nearly $100 million in direct support that the City provides to the School District and the additional $250 million in children’s services funding, and ensure the Department of Children, Youth, and their Families, which allocates tens of millions of City funds, is investing in the best programming for our kids. The Mayor can ensure City departments, such as Muni and Recreation and Parks, are supporting our schools and students as they should. And the Mayor can — and should — use the position to advocate for improvements to our schools and motivate the private sector to invest more in our students. As Mayor, I will be a fierce advocate for our public schools — I genuinely would not be here without them.
My Record on Education
· I am a proud, lifelong San Francisco Unified School District student: Rosa Parks Elementary, Ben Franklin Middle School, and Galileo High.
· My entire career has been dedicated to serving the youth of our city. Before my election to the Board of Supervisors, I served as Executive Director of the African American Art & Culture Complex, providing afterschool and summer programs, extracurricular and theater classes, mentorships, tutoring, and support for kids from all parts of San Francisco. Separately, I helped establish the Life Learning Academy with the Delancey Street Foundation, which is now a model for educating disadvantaged youth — whose new dormitory was just dedicated to Mayor Ed Lee.
· Before the Art & Culture Complex, I worked at Treasure Island, helping establish the Life Learning Academy with the Delancey Street Foundation, which is now a model for educating disadvantaged youth — and whose new dormitory was just dedicated to Mayor Ed Lee.
· I helped write and pass the 2014 ballot measure to increase the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF) and the City’s Children’s Fund and extend them for another quarter century. These are the two largest sources of local support for our public schools. Our measure, called Children and Families First, also created a Rainy Day Reserve to support our schools when the District’s budget is constrained and they may otherwise face teacher layoffs. And I fought to ensure the measure provided funding for Transitional Age Youth (age 18–24) so our young people are supported when they move from SFUSD to college and careers. Our measure passed with 74% voter support.
· I supported the ballot measure to provide the funding and the legislation to create the fund for Free City College. The funding measure passed with 62% voter support and now we are seeing thousands more students enrolling, helping the College recover from its accreditation crisis and helping those students on a path to success.
· I fully support this June’s Proposition G to implement a parcel tax to increase teachers’ salaries and invest in schools that need help the most.
My Education Agenda
1. Create Affordable Teacher Housing
New SFUSD teachers make about $55,000 a year. With ten years of experience, they make about $80,000 a year. A study released in February showed that you need to make $303,000 to afford a median-priced single-family home in San Francisco. After your $300,000 down payment, you’ll be paying $7,500 per month in mortgage payments, taxes, and insurance. I can’t afford that. My friends and family can’t afford that. And nor can our teachers. Our housing crisis makes it too difficult to attract teachers, and far too hard for them to stay.
New teachers make about 70% of the Area Median Income, which means they can afford around $19,000 in annual housing costs or a purchase price of about $200,000. Unfortunately, our affordable housing policies have consistently neglected the “working middle”: teachers, writers, bus drivers, and others who make too much for traditional affordable housing, but not nearly enough for market rate housing. I have fought not only to expand our affordable housing production, but to make more of those units available for teachers.
The new project in the Outer Sunset to build 150 homes for teachers needs a strong commitment from our next Mayor — and I will provide it. I will also expand down payment assistance programs, rent subsidies, housing counseling, and our Small Sites Acquisition program to secure hundreds more affordable homes for teachers. Please read my housing platform An Affordable City for All of Us to learn more about my plan to build thousands of affordable units and invest over $1 billion to help teachers and families stay in San Francisco.
2. Raise Teacher Pay
I fully support June’s Living Wage for Educators Act, Proposition G, to which will provide $50 million per year to increase teacher pay citywide. I am also committed to improving teachers’ lives here in the City, for example by making parking permits available for them in the neighborhoods where they teach and providing them preference to enroll their children where they teach or where they live.
We also have an early childhood education workforce in crisis. Preschool teachers are paid far less than elementary school teachers (who are underpaid themselves), and yet are increasingly required to attain similar educational certifications. Early childhood education is critical to educational achievement, and we know that raising teacher salaries raises the quality of classroom learning. I support dramatically increasing preschool teachers’ pay, as well as K-12 teachers, and paraprofessionals. Our front-line educators are too important to our next generation to be living in poverty, barely able to stay in San Francisco.
3. Prioritize Neighborhood Schools
The school selection process continues to be a headache for too many San Francisco families, sadly compelling many to leave the City altogether. I will advocate for the District to streamline the process and to prioritize neighborhood schools more. Kids and families should be able to walk to school in their community, as my friends and I did when I was a student. And parents deserve more predictability and certainty when they enter the school selection process. Neighborhood schools are better for the environment and are the backbone of a strong community.
Neighborhood schools also do not mean racially isolated schools, especially given the City’s density and diverse communities. Rosa Parks Elementary in my district, for example, serves both the Western Addition and Japantown communities, fostering a diverse and successful neighborhood school.
4. Launch Universal Pre-K
Universal Pre-K can help tackle the racial achievement gap, increase public school enrollment, and desegregate our public schools, while also supporting working families in the City. Cities like New York, Washington DC, and Seattle, have all implemented robust universal preschool programs. Early childhood education is critical to lifetime educational achievement, and San Francisco should be on the cutting edge.
Kids who receive quality education from ages 0 to 5 have higher high school graduation rates and salaries than children who don’t. For every dollar we invest in early childhood education, studies show between $4 and $9 in returns via reduced special education, welfare, and crime costs, and increased tax revenues from program participants later in life. The achievement gap actually begins before kids reach kindergarten, meaning universal preschool can close the gap before it even starts.
The City has already committed to the idea of universal preschool through its Preschool For All Program, which provides a small subsidy for all San Francisco four-year-olds attending accredited preschools. Despite its limited budget and scope, the program has been a wild success. Over 10 years, Preschool for All increased preschool participation rates in the City from 57% to 71%. Preschool attendance increased from 68% to 92% among African-American and from 54% to 86% among Latino children.
We must build on this success by providing full access to preschool for all three, four, and five year-olds in San Francisco. We can do this in three ways: 1) fully subsidizing slots in preschools that already participate in the Preschool for All Program; 2) increasing the number of preschool slots in the SF School District; and 3) raising the reimbursement rates for students who qualify for state and federal subsidies. I am committed to making Universal Pre-K a reality in San Francisco.
5. Secure School & Youth Funding
I will continue to fight for the two most important sources of local money for our schools — the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF) and Children’s Fund — as I did with our ballot measure to expand and extend them in 2014. I will make sure the baseline funding they provide is protected in our City budget. I will work with the District and City College to expand summer school offerings, particularly for high school students. And I will support afterschool and summer school programs in our budget and ensure that the Department of Children, Youth, and their Families (DCYF), which allocates most of the City’s education and youth funding, is aligned with District and families’ priorities.
Unlike the School District, the Mayor directly oversees DCYF. I know their work well and I know what programs are most successful in supporting our youth. As Executive Director of the African American Art and Culture Complex I worked with closely with DCYF to ensure sufficient funding for our programs for low-income children and to pay our onsite teachers, tutors, and paraprofessionals a quality wage.
6. Care for Our Students
The District should expand mental health and wellness support, especially in middle schools. We are seeing high rates of bullying, post-traumatic stress, suicidal thoughts, and mental health challenges. I have advocated for reinstating nurses at each campus to help identify and address these issues as early as possible. We also need more afterschool programs for wellness, which the City can fund directly, and more on-site Beacon Centers. All of our students should feel safe and supported when they go to school.
7. Ensure Safe Transportation to School
The School District has been working with the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) and others on a program called Safe Routes to Schools, in which every school conducts a transportation survey and develops a unique plan for students and families to get to school safely. The program encourages non-auto travel including Muni, walking, biking, etc., which can help build community and keep parents from having to sit in traffic every day. As Mayor, I will ensure the MTA strengthens Safe Routes to Schools, improves Muni service, builds the bike lanes and pedestrian safety improvements, and hires enough crossing guards so every child can get to school safely.
8. Improve Job Placement
SFUSD and City College graduates need stronger pathways into quality jobs in our local economy. Our economy is changing and our students need to be prepared for and connected with the jobs of tomorrow. Tech does not employ the most workers in the City; healthcare does. The City itself is the largest employer, followed by UCSF, the School District, Wells Fargo, and then Salesforce.
We need to connect our students with these employers, unions, and industries early on, help them secure internships, apprenticeships and mentorships, and ensure they have access to the classes they need to excel in their chosen field. And we need training and placements for students interested in the blue collar jobs of the future; San Francisco can, and must, still be a center of manufacturing, building, and design. As Mayor, I will work with the private sector to get real commitments for internships and jobs for our students. We have extremely talented students and we need to help them transition into skilled local professionals, whether in information technology, public safety, banking, building and other trades, City jobs, service, healthcare, or whatever the future may hold for our local economy.
9. Protect Algebra + Advanced Math
I will continue to support options for students to accelerate in mathematics. No child should be deprived the opportunity to excel. As mayor I will listen to parents and advocate for math enrichment so motivated students whose passion is not currently met by the curriculum sequencing can thrive.
10. Desegregate Our City’s Schools
Of the city’s 72 elementary schools, 28 have enrollment that is at least 60% one race or ethnicity. Academic experts agree: Segregation is a problem that hurts all kids regardless of their cultural or economic background. A 2011 memo by the federal Justice and Education Departments concluded that: “Racially isolated schools often have fewer effective teachers, higher teacher turnover rates, less rigorous curricular resources (e.g., college preparatory courses), and inferior facilities and other educational resources.”
We must do more to ensure our schools reflect our city’s diversity, which is one of its greatest strengths. We need to help parents navigate the lottery process and do more to attract and retain the best teachers at under-performing schools. I support programs like the one that brought Mandarin immersion to Starr King elementary school, helping it become a more diverse and higher-achieving school.
In closing, I am proud of the public school system that made me who I am and that has nurtured and taught generations of San Franciscans. As Mayor, I will support our schools every way I can. No family should feel they need to leave San Francisco to find a great public education. And no teacher should leave our schools because of unaffordable housing. We have much more work to do, but I know our schools can be world-class. They can be worthy of their students.