August 26, 2021

Dear Mayor Libby Schaaf and Oakland City Council, 

We are writing as a community-labor partnership and growing coalition of organizations who are collectively building power in the pursuit of an agenda that centers racial, gender, and economic justice. Together we have led initiatives to win access to child care resources, protection for City workers and essential workers, and life affirming community driven alternatives to policing in our communities. We, as the Oakland Progressive Alliance, are collectively building power for an agenda that centers racial, gender and economic justice. 

We have learned that the Mayor and City Administration are making major changes to Head Start, one of the most important programs serving our communities, and that these changes may gut this vital program. 

The City of Oakland’s Head Start program has long been a critical part of the fabric of family life for generations of working-class Oaklanders. Study after study has shown that Head Start leads to better outcomes among Black and Latino communities, such as higher graduation rate and lower incarceration rates. This program has served the most impacted families, and has the most comprehensive set of social services in the City for families with young children. The City of Oakland’s Head Start program has sites located in East and West Oakland, providing necessary child care services to working families. Oakland’s Head Start program has a strong history of successfully providing care to our communities. Head Start workers, from frontline to teaching staff, have developed deep relationships with families – often spanning generations. 

Despite the hard work of Head Start staff who provide quality services year in and year out, Mayor Schaaf and the City Administration have chosen to subcontract significant portions of the City-run program to nonprofits. Contracting out the Head Start program and closing sites will result in unneeded disruptions to the lives of vulnerable low-income families in Oakland. The Head Start staff, employed by the City, have built long standing relationships in these communities and have provided high-quality child care for decades. One estimate predicts that over 100 slots could be moved from City-run programs to nonprofits who lack Oakland Head Start’s long history of employing Black workers deeply rooted in the Black communities they serve. Additionally, the City’s current plan would contract out sites in areas with a long history of disinvestment by the City, further harming Black and Brown families and depriving Oakland children & their families of this irreplaceable service. Lastly, contracting out will also lead to the layoffs of up to 30 dedicated public servants, the majority of whom are women of color and who have lived in and serviced the City of Oakland for years.

To be clear—the deficiencies identified by the Office of Head Start that prevented the grant application from renewing automatically were not due to any lack of care or negligence by Head Start staff or supervisors, and are largely due to impossible federal reporting requirements  that our  City’s executive management is responsible for overseeing. As a community, we have an obligation to recognize the incredible commitment to Oakland’s children and families by Head Start staff who have kept these vital programs going by successfully executing daily operations. The workers who will be impacted by the proposed layoffs and site closures are primarily black and brown women giving back to their own neighborhoods. Instead of penalizing essential and frontline workers who have supported our Oakland families for decades, we must do everything possible to find resources to maintain services. What is needed is a commitment from City leadership to preserve the legacy of Head Start, and the critical role it has played as an institution to Black communities in our city. 

In order to protect Oakland’s Head Start, we are seeking the following restitution:

  • Immediately restore the current operation of the Head Start program using City funding as needed.
  • Ensure that Head Start staff and all City workers are able to remain in their current positions.
  • Preserve current City-run child care slots.
  • Stop site closures, especially closures in locations servicing East and West Oakland. 
  • Create and implement a broad community input process that informs subcontracting of historically City-run Head Start programs to nonprofit providers.
  • Fund an independent analysis of Head Start, child care, and human services provided to families in Oakland, including Family Front Door/Housing services, in order to strengthen the services identified by community members as most vital. 
  • Ensure that the real needs of West and East Oaklanders are at the center of all current and future negotiations. 

We, the undersigned, demand that the children, families and workers of the City of Oakland’s Head Start program are not subject to further divestment. Instead the City of Oakland must commit to providing the resources necessary to ensure that Oakland families, especially those in East and West Oakland, continue to receive access to the vital jobs and services provided by the City of Oakland’s Head Start program and must do so via a transparent process.