Chevron Richmond’s pledge to give $35 million over 10 years toward college scholarships for local students – part of a $90 million community benefits package attached to the refinery’s planned Modernization Project – was touted by city leaders and educators Thursday as a game-changer not only for schools but for the city’s economic vitality.
With those funds, every Richmond public school graduate is guaranteed full college tuition, but city leaders say there are even more benefits.
Along with improving test scores, college entrance rates and school district enrollment, similar Promise Programs in other U.S. communities have had a positive economic impact on cities, in at least one case reversing a city’s population decline, said Councilmember Tom Butt, who accompanied fellow councilmembers Jael Myrick and Jim Rogers at a late-morning press conference at Kennedy High School.
In 2007, Murphy Oil Corp. pledged $50 million toward a similar program in El Dorado, Ark, an economically depressed community where it operates, Butt said.
“Enrollment in its school district has gone from negative to positive, and people are actually moving into El Dorado to take advantage of the program,” Butt said. “And the effect on the student performance is just what people expected and a lot more. Ninety-percent of graduates are now going to college, compared to 53 percent throughout the rest of Arkansas.”
Many students at Richmond schools simply can’t afford college and as a result are less invested in their education, said Precious Haynes, a Kennedy High sophomore.
“Getting in is only half the battle,” Haynes said, citing a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation study which found that 60-percent of students drop out of school due to financial reasons.
With students more invested in college, teacher performance will improve, said Randy Enos, a member of the West Contra Costa Unified School District board.
“Teachers do better when they understand that what they’re doing means something to somebody,” Enos said.
Myrick first pitched the scholarship program in Richmond while campaigning for City Council. He saw a golden opportunity with Chevron Richmond’s Modernization Project to honor that pledge.
WCCUSD board member Madeline Kronenberg said she’s been a supporter since Myrick pitched the program but added “the state of California wasn’t offering the funding.”
“This kind of program is growing; it’s picking up steam across the country,” Kronenberg said. “This opportunity with Chevron is here, and it will provide extraordinary new possibilities for our kids.”
Kronenberg said the $35 million contribution offers “enormous opportunities” to leverage more funding from other secondary sources, including nonprofits and Ivy League schools.
Asked by a television journalist whether Chevron’s $35 million was part of a “deal with the devil,” Myrick said it was the exact opposite.
“The [Chevron Richmond Modernization] project that we approved is going to reduce health risks…it’s going to make the refinery cleaner and safer, that’s a fact,” Myrick said. “Even Chevron’s toughest opponent, Communities for a Better Environment, said the project reperesents 70-percent of what they wanted.”
The controversy following the project’s approval has not been about the merits of modernization, Myrick said, but rather how much the community could get out of the deal.
“People wanted other things as well…I wish we would have gotten those things done, but you don’t always get everything you want,” Myrick said. “Should we have risked losing what we did get in order to get something else? My opinion on that was no.”
Details on the $35 million scholarship program are still being hammered out, but Myrick said the funds will be administered by a nonprofit.
“The community has gotten together and removed a big barrier for the students of Richmond,” she said.
“It’s not about kids getting paid to go to college, it’s about kids changing their attitudes, culture shift, wanting to go to college,” Rogers said.