Despite fears of Draconian budget cuts, education may be spared

In his 2010-11 budget draft, Gov. Schwarzenegger offered a grim picture of sweeping cuts and pain, with still deeper cuts on the way unless more federal dollars flow to California.

But there was one bright spot, at least for now – education. The Republican governor has proposed no further cuts to higher education, and he is pushing an amendment guaranteeing that schools will always receive more funding than prisons.

“Spending 45 percent more on prisons than universities is no way to proceed into the future,” Schwarzenegger said.

On paper, it does appear that higher education has been spared in the 2010-11 Budget. The planned spending for the California community colleges, the California State University and the University of California generally reflects a modest increase across the board.

But this stability is in part due to revenue generated by increased student fees.

The budget accounts for the “increase in fee revenue of $97.9 million in 2009-10 and $662.7 million in 2010-11. These changes reflect a mid-year 15 percent fee increase in the current year and an additional 15 percent increase in the budget year, based upon the estimated funded level of full-time equivalent students,” the administration said.
University of California resident undergraduate fees hit students hard when they went from $9,311 in 2009-10 to $11,287 in 2010-11.

Facing more expenses, student’s need for competitive Cal Grants jumped 42 percent in 2009-10 but funding for new grants was cut in the 2010-11 Budget. The new plan upholds current grant recipients but suspends all new competitive Cal Grants that would be issued after the March 2 deadline or to students more than a year out of high school.

Deborah Frankle Cochrane, Program Director for The Institute for College Access & Success, said, “The Governor’s budget wrongly asserts that competitive Cal Grants are ‘duplicative’ of other Cal Grants. In fact, these grants serve a unique population of students whose academic success is critical to the state.”

Also expected is at least a 5 percent student fee increase pending on the acquisition of federal stimulus money. If the Governor doesn’t receive the money he is expecting, he built in an increase of at least five percent. Víctor Sánchez, President of the University of California Students Association say “this poses a big problem, and very frankly is more of the same.
“We’re looking at a budget that could drive more students out and have those who are left without the sufficient aid or opportunity to attend what is supposed to be a public institution.”
Yet overall these are two blips in a budget that has otherwise sought to help higher education.

Speaking for the ICAS, Cochrane says, “We appreciate that this proposal spared higher education many of the deeper cuts proposed and enacted in previous years, and hopes that the Governor and Legislature consider every option, including raising revenue, to ensure college is affordable for all Californians.”

To demonstrate his sincerity in wishing to protect education, Schwarzenegger proposed a new amendment that would always put brains before chains.

“What does it say about any state that focuses more on prison uniforms than on caps and gowns? It simply is not healthy,” he said.

Under the proposed amendment, no less than 10 percent of California’s money could be allocated to publicly funded schools, and no more than 7 percent could be spent on state prison systems.

“I will submit to you a constitutional amendment so that never again do we spend a greater percentage of our money on prisons than on higher education,” said Governor Schwarzenegger in his final State of the State address on Jan. 6.

Perhaps a constitutional amendment is a bit drastic. If passed, the mandatory limits would take place in the 2014-15 fiscal year.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would have the increased freedom to outsource more prisoners to decrease costs, but prisoners would not be released early in order to cut costs.

A two-thirds vote in the Legislature would allow modification of funds by the Governor or legislature in a declared fiscal emergency

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