Mayor Robert Garcia announcing the Mayor's Fund for Education at Little Owl Preschool in North Long Beach. Photo: Jason Ruiz
Mayor Robert Garcia unveiled a new non-profit Thursday which has aims of fundraising to supplement educational programs in the city. The Mayor’s Fund For Education will initially try to tackle the task of increasing access to early childhood education opportunities before addressing some of its broader goals.
Garcia, joined by nearly every top educator in the city, revealed the Mayor’s Fund just one floor above the clamor of pint-sized students at Little Owl Preschool in North Long Beach. He said that the fund, of which is official position will be to solicit donations for, will first focus on the youngest learners in the city.
“We all know, and all the research shows that the best investment that we can make as a country and as a community is in education,” Garcia said. “There is no better investment. There is no better return on your dollar than education.”
The mayor noted that while the city is not interested in running schools outright, he is committed to supporting the efforts made at every level, especially in the years leading up to elementary school.
The focus of the fund in the foreseeable future will be on exploring what an early childhood education plan looks like at the city level, supporting early literacy campaigns promoted by the city’s libraries, supporting the preschool centers at CSULB and Long Beach City College and ensuring that the new Long Beach Educare Center is opened.
Long Beach Unified School District Superintendent Chris Steinhauser said that the the Educare Center, a state-of-the-art education school set to open at Barton Elementary as early as next year, is making progress with the help of an anonymous $8.5 million donation.
The center will serve at-risk children in North Long Beach from birth to age five providing year-round quality education programs.
“The only way that we’re going to become a better community, a better state, a better nation is to close what they call the opportunity gap and the achievement gap,” Steinhauser said. “And it starts at birth.”
In a study released last month by Nobel Prize winning educator James Heckman, investing in students with programs like Educare can have substantial payoffs in the long-run.
Heckman’s study found that children enrolled in such zero-to-five programs show a greater likelihood to graduate from high school, had higher IQs and were healthier over the course of their lives. His work also found that these programs resulted in lower rate of incarceration than their peers who were enrolled in lower-quality programs or just stayed home.
His work also put a price on the investment, estimating that for every dollar invested into zero-to-five programs society gained over $6 in benefits. The savings, or “societal benefits”, stem from a combination of less taxpayer dollars spent on public health, drops in crime and less money being poured into publicly funded jails.
The findings of Heckman’s study were based off of students in North Carolina whom his group started tracking in the 1970s and followed until age 35.
The Mayor’s fund could provide a unique opportunity for the city to enhance its efforts to combat the opportunity gap that exists in some portions of the city without having to dip into the general fund to do so. The fund already has some big name donors who have contributed including AT&T, The California Endowment, Intertrend and Renzei.
How much money would be needed to meet the fund’s goals was not clear as the board has yet to outline the annual operating needs, said the fund’s executive director, Karissa Selvester. She said that at this point the fund is more worried about assessing needs before it sets too specific of goals in terms of fundraising.
As far as what the fund will try to do specifically, when it branches out past its initial focus on early childhood education and incorporates efforts at the college level, Selvester said that those talks, too, are preliminary, but that the fund’s web of education—early childhood, the Long Beach College Promise, and internship opportunities—could work hand in hand to ensure that the investments made in the coming years result in college degrees.
“We’re having those conversations with them [LBCC, CSULB] right now on what they think their needs are,” Selvester said. “I don’t want to be presumptuous of what those needs are. What I am hearing is that linked learning and those internship opportunities are the best way to have those channels, those pathways to careers which help students to complete their degrees because they know they’re working toward that career or that job or whatever it is.”
Garcia has long been an advocate of education, with his first policy address held at Cal State Long Beach, where he declared he would do everything he could to support the education institutions in the city. Since then, Garcia has expanded the the College Promise and fought for an expansion of internship opportunities in the city, working with Pacific Gateway and other entities in Long Beach to draw the city’s student to internship ratio closer together.
Having graduated from and instructed at the city’s two post-secondary institutions, Garcia said that education will always be a priority for him. At next week’s State of the City, Garcia said he plans to keep education as one of the core areas of interest that the city will act on in the coming year.
“I’m a teacher and I’m an educator so I’m always going to put education first. I’ve always believed that education is the best investment that government can make, period,” Garcia said. “It’s the best economic development tool, it’s the best way to keep communities safe, it’s the best way to make sure that communities are strong.”