A Big Idea, and a Promise to End Poverty and Increase Student Achievement in California


Co-authored by:
Luis Granados, CEO, MEDA, San Francisco

Dixon Slingerland
, President and CEO, Youth Policy Institute, Los Angeles

California has long been a bellwether state. From the creation in 1868 of a renowned state university system to 1972’s creation of the California Coastal Commission to being the modern-day epicenter of tech innovation, this is the place that leads the nation in delivering the promise of opportunity to its residents.

Yet far too many of our most vulnerable are being left behind.

An ever-increasing income gap and out-of-control housing costs have coupled to translate to California now having the highest poverty rate in the nation, with one in five of our kids underresourced. Additionally, our public schools are also underresourced, underfunded and underperforming.

This is unconscionable in a state with so much wealth — and so many big ideas.

The answer to simultaneously addressing both of these major issues — with one targeted, two-generation approach — is Promise Neighborhoods.

There are currently five Promise Neighborhoods in California — a collective that has been showcasing results by providing coordinated services. The concept is that when families succeed and are lifted out of poverty, then students can achieve with notable results such as better grades and more post-secondary admissions. Promise Neighborhoods guarantee that low-income communities of color can close the opportunity gap by bundling high-quality schools with wraparound supports to ensure that every student successfully transitions from cradle to college and career.

The numbers around graduation rates are especially telling: From 2012 to 2016 In San Francisco, the graduation rate at the target school went from 62 percent to 86 percent; from 2011 to 2016 in Hayward, the graduation rate at Hayward High School went from 76 percent to 89 percent; and in Los Angeles, the graduation rate went from 78 percent to 88 percent across 10 target high schools.

Promise Neighborhoods saw similar increases in the percent of children enrolled in a high-quality preschool, demonstrating or exceeding age-appropriate functioning in assessments and being eligible to enroll in a university.

Banking off this success is SB 686, the California Promise Neighborhood Act of 2019, which aims to create 20 statewide Promise Neighborhoods in locations running the gamut from urban centers to suburban enclaves to rural communities. Selections will be based on this criterion: an opportunity gap that needs to be closed for families and their children. It’s called equity.

The California Promise Neighborhood Act of 2019 is California’s next ambitious, groundbreaking initiative, expanding a proven approach to more California children and their families. The time is now to support SB 686 and to let your legislative representatives in Sacramento and Governor Newsom know they should as well. Additionally, we ask our teachers, community members, parents and community-based organizations — from Redding to San Diego, Bakersfield to South Lake Tahoe — to make your voice heard at the Capitol at the SB 686 lobby day on April 9, and testify in favor of SB 686 when the bill is heard before the Senate Education Committee on April 10.

With California’s almost $30 billion surplus, there is no better place for these funds to go than to concurrently reduce poverty and significantly increase student achievement.

2019 is the time for this big idea that will invest in our state’s future.


Luis Granados is Chief Executive Officer of the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA), the lead agency of the Mission Promise Neighborhood in San Francisco.

Dixon Slingerland is President and Chief Executive Officer of Youth Policy Institute, the lead agency of the Los Angeles Promise Neighborhood.

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