Brown targets middle class families with scholarship funding

Jerry Brown, head of a state that has sharply reduced funds for higher education in recent years, is showing his efforts for change by signing into law a bill that helps a middle class family struggling to foot increasing bills.

The governor stopped at California Middle School in Sacramento, touting his scholarship program as part of his Local Control Funding Formula, a sweeping overhaul of education finance that raises resources in communities with schoolchildren who are English learners or come from low-income families.

“A lot of families are trying to pay for college, but they don’t have the wherewithal” to cover the costs, Brown said in response to a question about why there is a need to supply funding in excess to what is already granted by voter-approved Proposition 30. That measure raises about $6.8 billion by temporarily boosting sales and income taxes.

Assembly Speaker John Pérez agreed that beleaguered middle class families need funding for their children’s higher education.

“This is a great victory for higher education and middle class families in California, and a huge first step in keeping college affordable,” Pérez, author of the Middle Class Scholarship program, said during the tour with Brown.

Brown has targeted improving public education throughout his term.

Proposition 30, approved last November, improved education funding through a quarter-cent sales tax increase and higher income taxes, and reflected a powerful coalition of educational and labor interests.

This year’s state budget apportions the University of California and the California State University each $250 million more than last year. But the governor dropped some of his demands during the budget negotiations for higher education over the next four years.

Gov. Brown initially sought to require the university systems to show improvement in graduation rates, increase enrollment of low-income students and freeze tuition for four years. University officials and key legislators indicated these requirements were unwise considering state budget limitations, according to an L.A. Times report.

But there is no denying the desperate situation students have been dealing with, in their pursuit for a higher education in the California university systems. According to Pérez, the past 10 years have included tuition rates increases by over 190 percent at UCs and by about 145 percent at CSUs.

An affordable higher education is the goal of state officials.

Starting in the 2014-15 year, the new program would lower tuition costs by up to 40 percent for UC and CSU freshmen students whose families earn under $100,000 and 10 percent for those under $150,000. The program will aid families earning too much to receive financial aid, but still struggle with affording the dramatic increases to higher education in recent years.

Pérez authored a similar bill last year, but it subsequently died on the Senate floor. This year’s legislation passed the Senate unanimously and achieved bipartisan support in the State’s Assembly.

Outside of the family income requirement, to qualify for the new program students must satisfy what’s required for a Cal Grant, be a California resident or be exempt from paying nonresidential tuition, file certain financial aid documents and maintain a minimum of a 2.0 Grade Point Average.

The Department of Finance has authorized $107-million to be transferred out of the General Fund for the 2014-15 fiscal year for the Student Aid Commission to allocate the Middle Class Scholarship. This incrementally increases to $305-million by the 2017-18 fiscal year and all years thereafter.

The commission will also make an annual assessment of the yearly-apportioned amounts, to determine whether sufficient to cover the number of expected scholarships to be awarded by the program.

For those families making less than $100,000, this scholarship could lower college fees from $12,192 to $7,315 at UCs and from $5,472 to $3,283 at CSU campuses according to Pérez.

The timing of signing this program into law cannot be overlooked. Today, the US Congress missed a deadline to prevent student loan rates from doubling. Though this can be retroactively mended, this illustrates the tenuous student class.

Early this month on the floor, Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, said the daughter of a good friend had to borrow $100,000 dollars in student loans for just four years of college.

“Quite frankly, we’re pricing our middle class kids out of the university system,” said Cannella. “When she graduates from college, she is going to have to pay $1,200…a month for thirty years. That’s a lot of debt to put on a brand new student.”

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