Legislative Analyst’s office skeptical of Brown’s plans for higher education

The Legislative Analyst’s Office published a report on Monday praising Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed state budget for its fiscal restraint but also raising concerns about the governor’s plans for higher education.

Brown’s statements last week that California is finally “in the black” could indicate a change in fiscal health that has eluded the University of California in recent years, but the Legislative Analyst’s Office remains skeptical about Brown’s proposals — among them an expected freeze on tuition hikes and fees for the next four years.

Introduced on Jan. 10, the proposed budget grants both the UC and CSU systems a $125 million funding increase for the 2013-14 year. Both will also receive an additional $125 million from last year’s budget — money they were promised in exchange for not increasing tuition in the 2012-13 academic year. The budget expands funding to California higher education for the first time in recent years.

The office warned against Brown’s plan to maintain tuition hikes and fees at their current rates for the next four years. Maintaining tuition at its current level was a major reason many UC and CSU students advocated for Prop. 30, the November tax initiative that prevented a $250 million midyear budget cut to the UC system. However, a four-year freeze could lead to even steeper increases down the line, according to the report.

“It’s great for students that they are projecting a four-year freeze,” said ASUC External Affairs Vice President Shahryar Abbasi. “We hope that the revenues for this will materialize, but a two-year freeze is more likely.”

Abbasi said that students and families would be better able to manage tuition increases if they came as minor, planned increases, in comparison to the drastic hikes of recent years.

Within the balanced budget — a feat Brown credits in part to the passage of Prop. 30 — the governor focuses on increasing graduation rates and maintaining the cost of public education. Although in support of Brown’s objectives, the Legislative Analyst’s Office reported concerns that nonspecific allocation of funds could lead to wasted state dollars and unmet goals.

“Though the Governor enumerates several performance expectations for the universities like improving graduation and transfer rates, his plan includes no clear way to hold the segments accountable for meeting these expectations,” the report states.

The report also expressed concern about the budget’s allocation of nearly $200 million in general funds to the community college system.

“Over the past few years, the Legislature has enacted several pieces of legislation specifying a number of priorities it desires to fund once new CCC resources become available,” the report states. “In allowing the CCC system to make its own spending decisions for the proposed base increase, the Legislature would lose assurance that the state’s highest CCC priorities would be addressed.”

Beyond increasing general funding, Brown’s proposed budget calls for various efforts to more efficiently cycle students through the school system and to reduce education costs for both students and the state.

“The goal is to provide our students with a solid and affordable education,” Brown wrote in an address to the California Legislature. “It challenges the leaders of our education system to do better by our students by deploying their teaching resources more effectively.”

These plans include allocating $10 million to the CSU and UC systems, respectively, and $16.9 to community colleges for online education and capping the number of units students can take under state-subsidized tuition — a proposal the report said merits the Legislature’s consideration.

Brown will now have to convince the Legislature that his plans for higher education and the state merit passage. The budget will be finalized in June, and the 2013-14 fiscal year begins July 1.

Contact Libby Rainey at [email protected].

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