When Nia House was first established in 1974, the school’s founder, Tia Waller, knew that the best way to tackle the economic achievement gap in Alameda County was to begin with our most vulnerable population, young children. Ms. Waller did this by offering nearly free early childhood education to all families whose income level qualified for support from a program of the City of Berkeley. In 1979, the mission of the school shifted due to a significant reduction of funding to all City of Berkeley contracted agencies. Nia House moved from serving specifically low-income families to focusing on equal access to education and outreach to socioeconomically diverse families. This financial model continues to serve the school community today.
In 1979, Nia House bought 3 historic bungalows for $1 each from the Berkeley Unified School District and sought a permanent location for their use. The Nia House Board of Directors worked with the City of Berkeley and acquired a long-term lease of a site for the bungalows, 2234 Ninth Street, for $1 per year. The City thus effectively subsidized the rent, allowing Nia House to continue offering scholarships for the past 35 years.
Nia House achieves its mission through a scholarship program. No family is turned away because of limited financial resources. Nia House provides scholarships for 40 percent of the student body, currently totaling $151,000 of annual subsidies. Ten percent of the tuition subsidies come from the City of Berkeley, through a grant that the school has received for the last 43 years. A flexible fee structure allows us to continue to accommodate additional low-income families, while meeting the expenses of our program.
In 2013, the City of Berkeley renewed Nia House’s lease, adding 4,000 square feet to the site and slightly increasing the lease payment while still supporting the financial needs of the school. The increased square footage was acquired by adding an additional adjacent lot to the site: 2240 Ninth Street. In addition to the City’s approval of the new lease, the City also combined the two lots, thereby approving the possibility of the school’s planned expansion.
Nia House’s Program Expansion Project increased enrollment 68 percent, from a capacity of 50 to a capacity of 84 children. With funding support, two new classrooms and a front office were built on the adjacent site of 2240 Ninth Street. The newly updated facility will includes children’s bathrooms in each classroom, an adjoining shared kitchen, ample outdoor classroom space, a vegetable garden, and increased space for young children to run, bike and climb.