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    Getting Head Start and Wellness for Our Children

    By Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember At-Large–

    As Oakland struggles with the fight against the closure of schools and Head Start centers in predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods, it becomes clear that innovative thought is needed to address the fact that educational opportunities are being taken from economically disadvantaged children.

    On January 31, 2022, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) revealed its plan to either close or merge 16 of the district’s 80 schools. The proposed closures have sent shockwaves throughout the community, galvanizing students, teachers, and families to oppose the proposed closures. We know school closures are a disinvestment within the neighborhoods they serve, removing central hubs for community-building, disrupting learning, and exacerbating decreasing enrollment rates.

    In response to the threat of school closures, I co-authored, along with Council President Bas, President Pro Tem Thao, and Councilmember Fife, a resolution that called upon the state to eliminate OUSD’s outstanding state debt to prevent closures, and amend state law to revise the Average Daily Attendance formula to remove penalizing schools when children are sick.

    Head Start/Early Head Start are early childhood education programs, which promote school readiness for children from birth to age five, and offer free early childhood education and family services. One of the primary goals of Head Start/Early Head Start is to improve educational and family outcomes and eliminate racial disparities for the community.

    Scientific research proves time and again that nurturing and educating children during ages zero through five has a significant impact on their development, growth, academic performance, and overall life success. Cuts to childcare and staff layoffs, therefore, undermine the quality of life. But this program has been struggling for financing and facilities.

    The challenges facing schools and Head Start create a unique opportunity. Rather than close and merge schools, which will leave those facilities vacant, there is another alternative. Instead, keep the schools open and rent out space in the schools for wellness and Head Start centers. The funding for the lease payments could come from the county and federal Head Start funding.

    It would be a good solution for our children to centralize the provision of wellness and education in one location. The lease payments could help a cash-strapped OUSD. This infusion of revenue may be enough to prevent school closures. This is an important need to be addressed because the demand for care of our students, especially the youngest children, doesn’t go away because of politics and budget cuts.

    We need to invest, not divest, in our children. They deserve our best and most innovative solutions. Their wellness and educational opportunities should be a community priority—they are our future.

    Councilmember At-Large and Council President Rebecca Kaplan, who is the Vice Mayor of Oakland, was elected in 2008 to serve as Oakland’s citywide Councilmember; she was re-elected in 2016 and 2020. She also serves on the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC). Follow Councilmember Kaplan on Twitter @Kaplan4Oakland ( and Facebook (

    Published on May 19, 2022