Educators divided over Proposition 92
January 31, 2008 10:10 AM
In the middle of a state fiscal crisis, Proposition 92 has pitted educators against one another.
Proposition 92, also known as the Community College Initiative, is on the Feb. 5 ballot and would cap current community college fees at $15 per unit and limit future fee increases.
If Proposition 92 passes, community colleges may potentially cut their student fee revenue by $70 million each year. To offset this, the measure requires the state to allocate an additional $300 million from the general fund annually to K-12 schools and community colleges for the next three years, according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.
“No one really knows where that $300 million will come from, but [community colleges] want to lower their own revenues to increase revenue,” said Reed Galen, campaign spokesman for No on Prop. 92. “They want to take a funding stream out of the equation. They want to take $70 million out of current funding, but add $300 million in funding.”
Last November, the California State University Board of Trustees and the UC Board of Regents both voted to oppose Proposition 92. The California Teachers Association also as the California Federation of Teachers backs the measure.
“The main concern was that the initiative would tie up funds,” UC spokesman Ricardo Vazquez said. “It would diminish the flexibility of the governor and legislature in setting up their spending priorities, and the UC and CSU could be negatively impacted.”
While the initiative does not propose new sources of revenue, “there’s no dictate that says other programs will be cut to fund Prop. 92,” said Jennifer Wonnacott, campaign spokeswoman for Yes on Prop. 92.
“There’s a lot of talk about the budget, but [Proposition 92] is a need because a lot of people return to community college for work training or to transfer to a four-year college to pursue new careers,” Wonnacott said. “It’s a smart investment, because for every dollar spent on community colleges, the state gets $3 back.”
Though Proposition 92 does not explicitly state where the estimated $900 million will come from, “it has to come from somewhere,” Galen said.
“It comes from existing funds, but when you’re looking at a $14.5 billion deficit now, where does it come from?” Galen said. “It has to come from higher education, public safety, or social services–-on top of all the programs and all of the services that the state pays for.”
In 1988, voters approved Proposition 98, which bundled K-12 schools and community colleges as a single entity when assessing minimum funding requirements, and disburses funds based on K-12 enrollment. A minimum of approximately 40 percent of the General Fund is currently allocated to meet the 1988 requirement, but community colleges only receive 10 to 11 percent of those funds.
Proposition 92 would make separate minimum funding guarantees for K-12 schools and community colleges. However if the state allocates less than 40 percent of the General Fund for K-14 education, Proposition 92’s separate funding agreement will not apply. Even if passed, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office predicts that Proposition 92 will not be in effect for a few years.
The current $20 per unit fee at the state’s 109 community colleges is among the lowest in the nation, and 25 percent of community college students are eligible to have fees waived.
“Lowering fees are an important part of Prop. 92 because if fees are raised, students don’t enroll,” Wonnacott said. “[Prop. 92] ensures community colleges will have the resources they need to keep their doors open with stable and adequate funding.”
However, Proposition 92 would “mean less money for the CSU and UC system,” said CSU spokesman Paul Browning.
“At the community colleges, lower income students already get fee waivers,” Browning said. “The passage of the proposition may mean higher fees for CSU and UC systems, who have been forced to pay more in recent times because the state has reduced funds. The proposition could make funding more difficult than what it already is, and we’re trying to boost pay for faculty and staff.”
Proposition 92 would enable community colleges to enroll over 100,000 more students, Wonnacott said. In the 2007 fall semester, 3,135 new transfer students from community colleges and four-year colleges enrolled at SF State, according to Jo Volkert, associate vice president of Enrollment Planning and Management.
“We absolutely believe in the value of the community college system,” Galen said. “But [Proposition 92] is not the right way to go about that.”
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