New bill fights for community college fairness

Morgan Liggera

The funding provided to California Community Colleges has rarely been the amount promised, but Assembly Bill 2277, introduced by Assemblyman Mike Eng, hopes to lay the groundwork that will prevent future shortfalls.This bill has been put on the state’s “suspense file,” but will be reconsidered this month, according to the Community College League of California.This year’s budget was a little under $80 million, but that amount wasn’t realized until the end of February, said Theresa Tena, director of fiscal policy for the Community College League of California.Tena indicated this could mean some serious consequences for community college students across the state, such as fewer course offerings in the summer, larger class sizes, fewer part-time instructors and possible reductions in student services, all of which could mean a longer stay at community colleges before transferring or receiving a degree.On the contrary, Pierce College President Robert Garber indicated that in the short term, impacts of the budget shortfall will be few. Pierce has lost $935,000 in the current year’s budget, but because Pierce is growing, it is carrying a positive budget balance of $5 million.”The college is taking steps to reduce budgets through some hiring restrictions and spending caps, but there will be no reduction in class offerings or the availability of services for students,” Garber wrote in an e-mail.The possibility of a fee increase in the future is worrisome. If per-unit fees were increased from $20 to $26, that would be a 30 percent increase.”In hard times, they raise fees and it drives away students,” Tena said.In November, each county in California collects property taxes, which make up a significant portion of the state’s budget for education. “The shortfall was masked by misreporting by county assessors,” Tena said, adding that initially, it appeared they were on target.Tena said that in April, revised information showed the budget to be short $92 million 10 months into the fiscal year, which begins July 1.This also brings up the issue that not only are community colleges not receiving the promised funding, but they are also being “caught with end-of-the-year surprises,” Tena said.Proposition 98 passed in 1988, which divided up the state funding for education between K-12 schools – which would receive 89 percent – and community colleges, which were to receive 11 percent. Since 1988, community colleges have received the full percentage only once, according to Tena. This is because legislators are allowed to vote on re-proportioning the community college’s share, and with a two-thirds vote, can overrule the guidelines set by Prop 98.Tena emphasized that this is an issue of fairness, saying that not only is money being taken out of the budget by legislators, but in K-12 schools, any shortage in funding is automatically backfilled by the state’s general fund.No such measure exists to ensure funding for community colleges, and this is exactly what AB 2277 proposes.”We need to communicate that we support this bill,” Tena said. Warren Furutani, assemblyman for the 55th district which includes Los Angeles, is a co-author of the bill and strongly supports it, said Dean Grafill, Furutani’s chief of staff. Furutani was a member, and later the president, of the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees until he was elected to the California State Assembly in February. Those involved with the community colleges can support his piece of legislation by contacting Furutani or other assembly members, according to Tena.”It’s important to pick a position,” Tena said. “Our schools should have the resources that are promised to them.”

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