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    Saving Restorative Justice and More

    By Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember At-Large–

    The fiscal difficulties facing the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) made national headlines earlier this year. The OUSD Board voted to cut $21.75 million to meet state regulator mandates. This was devastating for the over 33,000 children who attend district run schools; 73.5% of whom are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches.

    The cuts were particularly hard hitting to the kind of programing that our most vulnerable populations depend on. It became very clear that our Oakland City Council had to act fast. If we weren’t able to secure money before the end of the school year for the District, layoffs would occur that would affect vital programing. This is why I introduced legislation to immediately direct $1.2 million in Oakland City funds to OUSD to preserve the following: restorative justice programing, foster youth case managers, and school library funding.

    These programs are very important both for our youth and for the safety and vitality of our community. A bulk of the funding goes to the Restorative Justice program in OUSD. It moves children towards healthy and healing ways of dealing with violence and trauma instead of relying on punitive measures.

    A study by the Council of State Governments found that “students who are suspended or expelled are nearly three times more likely to come into contact with the justice system the next year.” OUSD began its restorative justice program in 2012 as part of an agreement signed with the Department of Justice because back then, African-American boys made up 17% of the student body and 42% of all students being suspended.

    By the 2018–2019 school year, there was a decrease in the number of suspensions by over 50%. Our funding also retained three case managers for foster care youth. Foster youth are one of the most vulnerable populations in our state. There are hundreds of foster care youth who attend OUSD schools who are provided with one-on-one support through this program. The program has decreased dropout rates from 41% to 19% and increased enrollment by 21% in 2-year and 4-year colleges in 2017–2018.

    Lastly, the OUSD library programs underwent radical shifts in how they distribute funding. Our legislation directed funding to sustain school libraries. The value of school libraries was summed up in a study of Pennsylvania schools that found that students with onsite libraries improve their test scores significantly, and are provided with a safe and supportive environment.

    This action received widespread public advocacy and support from many people and groups, including the Oakland Educators Association and Senator Kamala Harris, and was passed by the City Council, saving these vital programs.

    While we were able to move forward this funding successfully, this is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. On May 7, the Oakland City Council also passed my resolution requesting that the state waive $33 million in debt that OUSD owes the state. This is a much-needed step to get OUSD out a cycle of debt, which was imposed by the state over 10 years ago.

    Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan was elected in 2008 to serve as Oakland’s citywide Councilmember; she was re-elected in 2016. She also serves on the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC). Follow Councilmember Kaplan on Twitter @Kaplan4Oakland ( https://twitter.com/Kaplan4Oakland ) and Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/Kaplan4Oakland/ ).