Students lobby in support of bills addressing UC funding, loans

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With the California State Legislature approaching its last day to pass bills Sunday, the University of California Student Association has taken an active role in lobbying the legislature by sending a delegation of students to Sacramento in early August and asking students over Twitter on Monday to call their representative and urge them to support bills that address UC funding and loans for undocumented students.

The lobbying campaign will continue until Gov. Jerry Brown’s last day to sign bills into law, which is Sept. 30. The UCSA will collaborate with the UC Office of the President in rallying students to share their support for these bills.

“I knew this was a magic opportunity for us to have a stake in which bills died and which lived,” said Kevin Sabo, UCSA board chair and director of legislative affairs in the ASUC external affairs vice president’s office.

Senate Bill 1210, named the California Dream Loan Program, would allow undocumented students to receive additional loans from the state in lieu of federal Pell Grants and other federal aid, which are unavailable to them. The bill passed the Senate on Tuesday and awaits Brown’s signature to become law.

“Establishing the California DREAM Loan Program will take some of our state’s top students closer to the graduation finish line,” said bill author Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, in a statement.

Senate Bill 872 would amend the budget and provide $100 million in funding for deferred maintenance to the UC and California State University systems. The funds would go to refurbishing campus infrastructure and other one-time needs.

“It’s really important that students keep track of this bill and show that we’re aware,” said Conrad Contreras, a UCSA board member and external vice president of UCLA’s student government.

As part of the multi-campus lobbying campaign, Contreras began using a tactic based on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge by asking students to complete an “action item,” such as sending a letter to Brown and then post it on social media while challenging three others to do the same. Campaigns such as this can work well, even when many UC students are off campus for summer breaks, Contreras said.

Going forward, Sabo said, the campaign will focus on the governor, asking students to tell Brown about their support for these two bills. This involves continuing a social media campaign, including tactics such as Contreras’ and working with the resources of the UC Office of the President.

“The students and administration don’t see eye to eye all the time, but we try to work as closely with them as we can and support each other,” said UC spokesperson Brooke Converse.

The university, which has also supported and lobbied for the bills, runs an advocacy site that makes it easier to contact the governor and legislators. Sabo said sending students to the site is an important tool for student organizers, too.

Both Converse and Sabo said SB 872 will make a positive impact on campuses. Deferred maintenance funding is a big part of keeping the campus running, Converse said.

The bills faced mostly Republican opposition, with some lawmakers objecting to elements of SB 872 unrelated to higher education, including $3 million in legal services funding for undocumented minors. Still, both of the bills passed their Assembly votes with more than two-thirds of legislators supporting them. Sabo, however, isn’t confident of Brown’s support.

“The governor has been rather miserly in his funding of the UC and CSU,” Sabo said. “This is about reaching out to students who are affected by these bills and getting them to tell the governor.”

Daniel Tutt is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @danielgtutt.