Mayor Kevin Johnson announced an ambitious proposal on Thursday to apply for a federal grant for Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood that could fund education, health, employment and housing programs.
During a nearly two-hour presentation at the Guild Theater, Johnson detailed his vision for helping win a U.S. Department of Education grant that could provide $20 million to $30 million over a five-year period for a 50-block area that spans two square miles.
It’s an area of the city where only 18 percent of third-graders can read at grade level.
“If you get a bad education when you’re young, in those early childhood days, it affects the rest of your life,” said Johnson, who grew up in long-struggling Oak Park.
Called Promise Neighborhood grants, the federal money is designed to create not only better educational opportunities for children, but also to spur community improvements like access to health care and home improvements that make it easier for families to be successful.
The goal of the program is to ensure that children educated in the neighborhood are prepared for a job or college.
More than 20 organizations representing schools, health facilities and community groups – including UC Davis, California State University, Sacramento, and the Sierra Health Foundation – spoke at the event about how they could use the money if it were received.
But two organizations took immediate action to help the area.
The University of the Pacific, a major presence in the neighborhood, announced it will fund two scholarships for Oak Park residents. It will offer one full-tuition slot for an undergraduate to attend four years at its Stockton campus, and another for a resident to go to its McGeorge School of Law in Oak Park. Both scholarships will be available for applications immediately.
The school will also implement a program by 2017 to assist local community college students to transfer to its Oak Park campus to finish their four-year degrees. That campus used to focus on law but now includes 12 other areas of study including a degree-completion program in organizational behavior.
SMUD also announced that it will move forward with plans to provide energy upgrades for area residents, including programs for appliance upgrades and weatherproofing designed to lower energy bills. It will also fund up to $50,000 in community grants and scholarships for students studying science, technology, engineering and math.
UC Davis also announced that it had used federal and other funds to expand staff at a nearby Sacramento County clinic that provides primary care services to those without insurance and other vulnerable groups.
“We’re going to be working to increase the access to patients,” said Dr. Julie Freischlag, vice chancellor of human health sciences and dean of the school of medicine at UC Davis.
Freischlag said that UC Davis planned further staffing increases at the site to serve Sacramento County residents, but that if the promise grant money comes through, “we’re hoping that grant would allow us to see more Oak Park patients.”
United Way California Capital Region will apply for the grant and would administer the funds, said local United Way president Stephanie Bray. Applications are due in September and funds will be awarded by the end of the year.
“We’re going to transform 50 blocks in 15 years,” if the grant is received, she said.
The Promise Neighborhood program is an Obama initiative based on an area in Harlem that instituted the comprehensive approach with demonstrable success. It was expanded to a federal program in 2010 but discontinued in 2012.
Funding for $150 million in grants is now available for the 2016 year, with plans to award it to up to five communities nationwide, Johnson said.
Johnson, a former NBA player, described the grant as like a basketball assist that could help Oak Park increase access to health care, improve and expand housing options and provide jobs and training.
“For the sake of the children, it would definitely be a plus to have it, but it’s a shame it didn’t happen sooner,” said Tyson Silva, 41, an Oak Park resident who has lived in the area since 1978.