When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill to reduce fees from $26 to $20 per unit beginning after Jan 1, 2007, members of the Los Angeles Faculty Guild and other educational organizations said the reduction was not enough.
The guild’s new initiative, filed in mid-July, proposes a reduction in enrollment fees to $15 per unit and would restrict the government from increasing the fees in the future.
This grassroots effort is spurring student activism across the 108 community college campuses throughout California. It is expected to appear on the ballot in June 2008.
“I’d vote for it,” said Louis Hidalgo, a Pierce College business major. “We already pay high prices for books. The enrollment fees should be steady. The lower, the better.”
Other organizations supporting this initiative include the American Federation of Teachers, Faculty Association of California Community Colleges and the Community College League of California.
“It’s not just about dropping the fees,” said Political Science Professor William deRubertis, president of the Pierce chapter of the L.A. Faculty Guild. “More importantly, it will separate the community colleges from the K-12 funding system and allow us to stabilize our funding source.”
The current budget for community colleges under Proposition 98 is shared with K-12 schools, which include kindergarten through 12th grade. Community colleges, referred to as “K-14,” are supposed to get 10.5 percent of the funding.
According to John McDowell, political director of the guild, community colleges have received their 10 percent only once in the proposition’s 18-year history.
The budget that supports K-12 and K-14 schools is based on projected property taxes and K-12 enrollment. If the numbers falls short, legislation requires the funding for K-12 schools to be supplemented by the general fund. There is no law that mandates enrollment for community colleges and no guarantee of funding if projections run higher than expected.
“There is not enough in the pot to fund the community colleges,” said McDowell. “We typically get whatever is left over after K-12 is fully funded. Sometimes this means we are forced to cut classes.”
This new initiative would allow funding for K-12 to continue without interruption while simultaneously creating a separate budget system for K-14. Separate budgets would mean that all funding decisions made for community colleges would require a roll call vote and two-thirds approval from the California State Senate.
“No member of the senate wants their name to be attached to a rate hike,” said McDowell.
According to the Web site of the California Secretary of State, Bruce McPherson, reducing fees to $15 per unit would cost community colleges $71 million in 2007-08. The potential increases as a result of being separated from K-12, however, could result in $135 million in 2007-08, $275 million 2008-09 and $470 million in 2009-2010.
The community colleges need 1.2 million signatures in order to place this measure on the ballot, according to deRubertis. The actual number of signatures collected to date was unavailable as of press time; however, an official tally will be conducted at the end of November.
“I believe we will be very close,” said deRubertis. “Pierce is the principal signature gatherer, but we are not alone in this state-wide issue.”
Pierce is hyping up its fund raising efforts to get the $1.5 million needed to put the measure on the ballot. Professional signature gatherers and students have raised $1 million so far. The major contributors include the guild and the California Federation of Teachers, which have contributed $100,000 each. The Federation of Community Colleges has given $58,000 toward this effort.
In addition, the guild is asking each college president to make a personal pledge of $1,000, each vice president to offer $500, deans to contribute $250 and all full-time faculty members are asked to donate $100.
“We are putting our money where our mouth is,” said McDowell, who has made a personal contribution of $500. “We have another $200 in pledges from unions in various districts, but we still need $300,000 more to meet the $1.5-million mark and we have until the end of November get there.”
The are also asking students to participate by signing up as volunteers to collect signatures. The information is available on its Web site located at http://www.aft1521.org/. Students may also contact their ASO office for further information.
According to Norm Levy, a faculty guild delegate, the fluctuation in enrollment fees often results in scaling back class offerings and lengthens the time that it takes for a student to complete a degree program.
In the 1980s, the fee was $5 per unit. It has steadily increased from $11, to $13, then to $26. Schwarzenegger’s recent bill will bring it down to $20 in January 2007.
“We want to stop the yo-yo effect,” said Levy.
“The most important thing about this initiative is that it will stabilize fees. Unstable fees hurt the students’ ability to plan because they don’t know if classes will be offered.”