Proposed state budget improves education funding, targets inefficiencies

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Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed 2013-14 state budget rolls back higher education cuts of recent years with improved funding but confronts California’s public universities about eliminating costly inefficiencies.

The budget, published Thursday, allocates an additional $125 million of general funds to both the UC and CSU systems over last year’s budget. Both universities are also entitled to $125 million each from a one-time-only buyout agreement in last year’s budget. Those funds would go to the universities only if they agreed not to raise tuition for the 2012-13 year.

If the budget passes, state funding would also increase over the next four years, putting the UC and CSU on the most stable fiscal trajectory in recent years. The budget proposes that the state’s General Fund contributions to the UC, CSU and the UC Hastings College of the Law increase by 5 percent during 2013-14 and 2014-15 and by 4 percent for each of the next two years.

However, the 5 percent funding increases provisioned in the budget may be insufficient for UC and CSU leadership. The $125 million unrestricted increases for this year amount to less than half of the 12 and 18 percent increases requested by the UC and CSU last year, respectively. This gap has caused worry that universities might have to turn to fee increases to maintain a similar level of spending.

“Even with this funding, we are still a long way from where we need to be,” said Raquel Morales, president of the UC Student Association, in a press release. “Students are deeply concerned that the gap in revenue will again be shouldered by students and their families in increased tuition.”

In a press conference in Sacramento on Thursday, Brown said he was concerned that tuition might rise at the UC and CSU but that tuition increases were a symptom of inefficiency, not a failure of the state to fund higher education. The budget cites the UC system’s high spending compared to other public research universities and CSU’s low completion and transfer rates as examples of inefficiency.

“The only way to stop (tuition increases) is for colleges and universities to reconfigure themselves so that they are more effective and they are able to do excellent work but do it in a way that will not keep the costs escalating at more than two times the cost of living,” Brown said at the press conference.

To tackle some of the perceived inefficiency, a provision of the budget establishes a cap limiting the number of units students can accrue before they become ineligible for state-subsidized tuition — 225 quarterly units for the UC, 150 for CSU and 90 semester units for community colleges. According to the budget, the cap would encourage students to reach their educational goals in a timely manner and increase access for others.

The budget also provides $10 million each to the UC and CSU and $16.9 to community colleges for developing and expanding  online and technology-based courses. These would allow a greater number of students into high-demand courses while using faculty and resources more effectively.

Republican leaders were supportive of the governor’s budget and hopeful about the forthcoming budget debate.

“Gov. Brown today proposed a realistic budget framework for California,” said Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo), vice chair of the Assembly Committee on Budget. “We look forward to working across the aisle with the governor and our Democratic colleagues to enact vital budget reforms.”

The budget will continue on to California’s two legislative bodies, where state senators and Assembly members will debate the various provisions until early May.

Contact Jacob Brown at [email protected].

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