The city of Richmond is looking at what some are calling a game-changer for our city: $35 million over 10 years toward college scholarships for local students called the Richmond Promise.
We know college graduates earn more than non-college graduates. An educated, financially-secure workforce can uplift the fabric of the community.
But I’m calling a foul on the game because in its current form the Richmond Promise does not include all Richmond students. Under this plan, our City Council will decide which students will receive Richmond Promise benefits. That’s up to $20,000 per child.
These students at select local schools may not include the city’s charter public schools, students on full scholarship at private schools or trade schools. These students might get nothing. Zero.
No matter where you or my City Council colleagues stand on the issue of public school is not the debate. We must remember all of our students are Richmond students first. Their families live here, pay taxes here, and breathe the same air.
Who are we to pick and choose?
My colleagues and I have made the best choices we can for our own children. I will not judge parents for choosing a school they believe will provide a better future for their child. And I won’t accept penalizing parents who make that choice.
For years, parents in our city have been exercising their freedom of choice and enrolling their child at schools other than their neighborhood school. In fact, according to data recently released by our school district, one in four Richmond high school students is enrolled at an alternative to their neighborhood school. That’s a lot of kids.
Truth be told, it’s no surprise that parents are hungry for choices. Take a look at the district’s recently published dashboard on student performance. Last year, fewer than 35 African American students at Richmond high schools were eligible to enroll in California’s public college system. Our children – and their parents – need more to be hopeful about. This is why parents are applying for scholarships to excellent parochial schools like Salesian, enrolling in charter public schools like Leadership Public Schools, and applying for district transfers as far away as Moraga.
I agree with the City when they say that writing checks for scholarships is the easy part. Getting students to a place where they perform is the real work. And to do this, we need to support all our Richmond students at the schools they choose. This plan is about inclusion and equity. It’s about making sure our kids can succeed in a college classroom and have financial support.
I implore the City not to favor one segment of local students over another because of politics. Why promise something to a few when you can promise a life-changing benefit to many? Richmond’s creed is “Pride and Purpose.” Let’s do something we can be proud of.
That means we don’t discriminate against some students because we don’t like the choices of their parents. I know from personal experiences as a youth to now being a senior citizen how hurtful it feels to be discriminated against, and I will not be a party to any such behavior toward our youth. Equal opportunity must be available to every Richmond child. They’re all our children.
That’s the Promise we made.
By: Councilmember Nat Bates.
Nathaniel "Nat" Bates is a former mayor and currently senior member on the Richmond City Council with 35 years as an elected official