Mayoral candidates list free tuition, school assignment system as top education priorities

Two San Francisco mayoral hopefuls have released bold education plans that include overhauling The City’s controversial public school assignment system and extending a free tuition program to San Francisco State University.

Addressing San Francisco voters Friday, former state Sen. Mark Leno gave a hat tip to fellow mayoral contender Supervisor Jane Kim for championing Free City, a tuition-free program that is currently available to San Francisco residents enrolled at City College of San Francisco.

Leno then said he planned to take the program a “step further” for “those students who do succeed and make their way to an [associate’s degree] at City College.

“Making S.F. State free [is] something we should seriously look at [with] public and private funding,” Leno said.

Citing a projected “deficit” of 1 million bachelor’s degrees in the state in the coming decades, meaning people who will not get degrees, Leno also championed the implementation of a program in San Francisco that would mirror an elementary school-to-college pipeline initiative in Long Beach, Calif. That program increases access to early childhood education, provides college tours for elementary school students and a tuition-free first year at Long Beach City College, and guarantees admission to the local state university for students who qualify.

SEE RELATED: Breed pulls ahead of Leno in fundraising for June mayor’s race

Leno said he would also focus on creating housing stability for teachers and students by pushing for the retention and creation of affordable housing units and seek out public-private partnerships to assist the San Francisco Unified School District in funding art and music education.

“Every study informs us that students who study art and music test better in reading, math and science, have higher self-esteem and lower rates of dropping out,” said Leno. “We are failing in providing arts education.”

Leno is not the only candidate to release an education plan.

Earlier this month, Board of Supervisors President London Breed, a product of the SFUSD, told the San Francisco Examiner she planned to take another look at The City’s complicated school assignment system.

“I want a top factor to be neighborhood preference,” said Breed.

The current “lottery” system is the result of attempts by the district to achieve classroom diversity in San Francisco’s historically segregated schools, as mandated by a consent decree.

It allows parents to submit a ranked list of school choices. Students are then assigned to schools based on a number of “tie-breakers” as well as demand.

Breed said in her own childhood, people in the neighborhood grew up going to school together. When the school assignment system changed, “people were kind of scattered.”

“A lot of what I noticed, too, is the violence started … I realized that a lot of the African-Americans were in conflict because they didn’t go to school together, they didn’t know each other and some were even family,” Breed said.

Breed said she would place more weight on students’ ability to attend neighborhood schools and called for studies looking at the impacts of the current system in terms of transportation, academics and well-being. She would also like to allow teachers to enroll their children where they teach or live.

Her education plan also calls for increasing and supplementing teachers’ pay and providing parking permits in neighborhoods where they teach, as well as the launch of a Universal Pre-K program. She hopes to increase the number of preschool slots in SFUSD and raise the reimbursement rates for students qualifying for state and federal subsidies.

Both Breed and Leno have said that providing affordable housing to teachers will be a priority if they are elected mayor.

Supervisor Kim spearheaded an effort over the last two years to bring free tuition to San Francisco residents attending City College and is one of the authors of Proposition C, a measure on the June ballot that would make early childhood education universal and affordable in San Francisco.

As mayor, Kim plans to tackle the achievement gap by supporting after school learning and enrichment programs and working with the business community to create mentorship and internship programs for students from historically disadvantaged communities, according to Kim’s campaign advisor, Julie Edwards.

Edwards said Kim also plans to fund and implement a yellow school bus program for “all elementary schools, so transportation is not such a scheduling ordeal for parents and so students can get to class safely.”

According to Edwards, Kim will prioritize making Muni free for “all children 18 and under.”

Laura Waxmann
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Laura Waxmann

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