In August, schools across the City welcomed students back. While public education builds our future generations, and we all want to be optimistic about their future, the reality is the ways that both the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and City College of San Francisco (CCSF) have been operating is greatly disappointing. These districts’ administrations have not been doing right by our teachers, students and our families.
At SFUSD, when we ask why we are losing our teachers, the simple fact is that after nearly two years and $20 million, they have not been able to pay our teachers on time and correctly. The looming deficit has long been an issue, yet the administration and Board of Education just cannot seem to get a handle on it. The deficit is now forcing many families to face the possibilities of school closures, furthering the inequity in our public-school education system. Further, the lack of a concrete and immediate response to address student violence and sexual assault in our schools is unacceptable, and we cannot continue to ignore the mental health and academic gaps that our students and their families suffered through the pandemic.
When I first took office, I recognized my limited role as a member of the Board of Supervisors when it comes to fundamentally changing our school system. Nonetheless, I fought to make sure we had funding to provide free summer camp for our students and families to alleviate their burden of care during the pandemic. With the success of free summer, my colleagues on the Board and I built on the momentum and were able to push forward with the Student Success Fund, a ballot measure that voters approved to provide additional city grant funding for schools to offer teachers and students the opportunity to close the academic gap – without adding a deficit to our city budget.
The truth is, San Francisco voters have always been generous and supportive of our public schools. In 2004, voters approved the establishment of the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF) which dedicates city funding to support enrichment programming throughout our school system. PEEF resources support SFUSD’s sports, libraries, arts and music programs, in addition to nurses and social workers. Now we continue to invest to support closing the academic gap providing after school academic tutor programming with city funding from the Student Success Fund.
Yet the question is not just about whether or not there are enough resources, but also whether or not there is mismanagement of the resources given. This is the question that I will be focusing on this fall as the chair of the Budget Committee. I am calling for a public hearing to examine SFUSD’s spending, treatment of our teachers, and education and services to our students and families.
We know that many of our high school students, as well as those who are essential workers or immigrant workers, in need of higher education, also suffered greatly during the pandemic. Only through City College of San Francisco’s Free City will many have an affordable option to higher education or an opportunity to expand their role in the workforce.
Free City, another San Francisco voter approved program funded by the City, was created to provide access to free college courses for all San Francisco residents. Enrollment has continued to increase because of student demand and Free City grants, yet the City College’s administration continues to lay off faculty and cut class offerings.
CCSF has overcome many challenges in the last decade, and thanks to the new state funding formula and continued increases in enrollment, CCSF is finally fiscally solvent. There is no more reason for layoffs or reduced class offerings when demand increases. In fact, this past June the Board of Supervisors expanded Free City funding in order to waive fees for students who had defaulted, so that they can return and register for new classes.
It is time to make sure City College meets the demands of enrollment, rehires laid off professors and serves all students equitably. This is why I am calling for a hearing on the spending and management of Free City by CCSF at the Budget Committee.
San Franciscans have done our part to fund these school administrations – it is time they do right by our students, teachers and families. I will hold them accountable, ask the tough questions to make sure they deliver the promises that we made, and San Francisco voters demanded. Our students and their families deserve quality public education, and they deserve the best that the San Francisco Unified School District and City College of San Francisco can offer.
This article was published in the Richmond Review in September 2023.