Monday, May 12, 2008

Cuts Endanger Public Education

There are close to 4,000 Filipino students enrolled at City College of San Francisco, by far the largest Filipino student body outside the Philippines . Their large presence accounts for why four of the last eight student body presidents at the main Ocean campus have been Filipinos. They are beneficiaries of California 's landmark 1960 Master Plan for Education which transformed educational opportunity in California for several generations and became the national model for public higher education.

The Plan defined specific roles for the University of California (UC), the California State University (CSU), and the California Community Colleges system (CCC). Its underlying principle was that some form of higher education should be available to everyone based not on their economic means but on their academic persistence and proficiency.

But now that principle is in jeopardy after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that the projected budget deficit for this year is close to $20 billion dollars, which will mean deep cuts in education. Although the state has weathered budget crises in the past, this time may turn out to be the worst for California public education and particularly for its community colleges.

Because property tax revenues are coming in far lower than predicted when the budget was signed last summer, the Governor’s budget proposes to cut community colleges by nearly half a billion dollars to cover the shortfall, including about $92 million that will immediately be trimmed out of their budgets by July 1, 2008.

For City College of San Francisco, this shortfall translates to nearly a $3 million loss, enough to defund about 460 course sections. Although operating costs continue to increase by nearly 5% —with health care costs increasing into the double digits—the state is not providing any money to cover the inflationary costs, creating an $8 million hole in the projected $195-M annual budget of City College .

How will City College deal with this budget crisis so that it can continue to educate its 110,000 students in 10 campuses throughout San Francisco ?

Eighty-five percent of the students who attend City College work, so they need to get through college as fast as possible. Others need to make up or fill-in so that they can complete their studies or transfer to a 4-year college or university. Many want to accelerate their course work in order to enter the job market as soon as possible. For them, summer school classes are not a luxury, they are a necessity.

To deal with the crisis, City College will not replace administrative, faculty, or staff retirements. If the Governor’s proposed budget becomes a reality, City College will have no choice but to eliminate 500 classes, 50 of which are English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. This will result in larger class sizes, longer lines, fewer offerings, and less student services—all of which translate to a longer time before the students achieve their educational goals.

City College will also have to dip into its reserves to help balance its budget for this fiscal year. But, unfortunately, this is not a one-year budget problem. Next year—2008-2009—is expected to be devastating.

To deal with the problem, tthe state’s Legislative Analyst is proposing a hike in student fees from $20 to $26 per unit, a 30% increase in one year. The last time tuition fees were increased, 300,000 students statewide dropped out, many postponing their college education for at least a year.

The impact of the proposed tuition fee increase will not be shared equally as it will fall hardest on the most vulnerable students, students who have just lost their jobs and can not afford to pay the increased fees. Students who have budgeted $6 per day for food would have to go 2 weeks with no food to pay for the fee increases.

Furthermore, since the proposed tuition fee increases will be for all of public higher education in California , fewer students will be able to afford a CSU or UC education, and more of them will have to rely on the California community colleges for their education. Their entry will edge out the traditional community college student, with the least educated and those with the lowest income pushed out and denied their opportunity to achieve the American Dream.

The present fiscal crisis can be traced back to the November 17, 2003 Executive Order of Gov. Schwarzenegger eliminating the $200 Vehicle License Fee (VLF), an election vow he fulfilled but an action which has meant an aggregate loss of $9-B in general revenues much of which would have gone to education.

To avert the crisis, new revenue enhancements need to be part of the budget solution, not just cuts. There should be no fee increases for the students as the budget should not be balanced on their backs.

The Filipino community should demand that public higher education must be enhanced, not reduced, now more than ever.

Rodel Rodis is a Trustee of the San Francisco Community College Board who has served three terms as Board President and as chair of the Board’s Finance Committee.

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