State budget includes cuts to Cal Grant funding

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The recently released details of the California state budget indicate that while there will be no immediate effect on UC student tuition, the Cal Grant system will experience a 5 percent decrease on some grants.

As a result of a budget line-item veto, Gov. Jerry Brown’s cuts to the program will negatively affect more than 190,000 students, according to Lori Nezhura, legislative director of the California Student Aid Commission.

The Cal Grant A awards, which are given to the highest performing students and fund all four years of tuition, will not be affected by the line-item veto. Cal Grant B awards, which have lower income limits and academic requirements, will also remain unaffected.

However, the entitlement award, which is part of the Cal Grant B package, will be reduced by 5 percent. Nevertheless, Nezhura said she is content with the outcome.

“(Despite the cuts), we’re pleased that no Cal Grant recipients lost their awards in this budget,” said Catalina Mistler,  chief of the California Student Aid Commission’s Program Administration and Services Division.

Furthermore, the new provisions will include measures that Cal Grant-participating institutions must meet to continue in the program. Schools will be ineligible for Cal Grants if they have a cohort default rate greater than 15.5 percent and if the graduation rate is lower than 30 percent.

“It’s a good idea to make those cuts based on institutional performance,” said Judy Heiman, a principal analyst at the California Legislative Analyst’s Office. “Given that the state is in a position where it needs to make some cuts, and given that (the Cal Grant program) has been one of the fastest-growing programs in the state, this seems like a reasonable way to go.”

However, Charlie Eaton, financial secretary of UAW Local 2865, which represents nearly 12,000 graduate student instructors, readers and tutors teaching on UC campuses, said the Cal Grant decreases are harmful measures that unfairly target the lowest-income students.

“While Governor Brown relented in accepting a tuition freeze, his vetoes hurt students, especially those from underrepresented communities,” Eaton said. “And, (they) side with the wrong priorities of the scandal-tarred CSU and UC management and boards that are closer to Wall Street than they are to Californians.”

Still, Mistler said she believes the changes to Cal Grants still work to improve the system as a whole.

“The governor and the legislature, in working (the provisions) out, really tried to focus most of the cuts on promoting institutional quality for the benefit of California students,” Mistler said.

Although the budget includes cuts to Cal Grants, it also allocates $125 million each to the UC and CSU to prevent tuition increases for the upcoming year. The UC Board of Regents had previously speculated that tuition would have to increase by 6 percent for the coming year without an increase in state funds.

If Brown’s tax initiative on the November ballot does not pass, a series of cuts will be triggered in the UC and CSU that will likely lead to tuition increases for the university systems.