State Assemblymember Tony Thurmond talks on college affordability at town hall at UC San Diego

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Tony Thurmond/Courtesy

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California State Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, D-Richmond, who is running for state superintendent of public instruction, discussed education funding and homelessness at a college affordability town hall Thursday evening at the UC San Diego campus.

If elected this November, Thurmond will serve on the UC Board of Regents. Before the town hall, Thurmond said in a teleconference that he wants California students to co-write a bill “tackling the issues of homelessness, food insecurity and mental health,” which he would hope to introduce to the state Legislature as early as January 2019.

Representatives from UCSD’s Basic Needs Committee spoke during the town hall about community-driven actions to combat these issues. Among these representatives was committee co-chair and UCSD Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Life Patty Mahaffey, who said listening to student input will help identify the “root causes” of college affordability issues.

Mahaffey spoke alongside Thurmond and a panel of students, who each took turns addressing community members’ questions. Thurmond also used the evening to discuss his candidacy platform.

Thurmond said at the town hall that as superintendent, he would support K-12 education, advocate for community colleges and work with the state Legislature to secure funding for the CSU and UC systems. Thurmond said these systems are competing for resources, and are simultaneously “being made to compete with everything else (the state) funds.”

During the teleconference, Thurmond stressed the importance of fundraising and fair allocation of education funds in order to best support California students. He acknowledged the Legislature’s $300 million allocation of state funds to the UC Office of the President for the 2017-18 fiscal year, but said it’s “not enough.”

“If a single student struggles, then we have to do more,” Thurmond said at the event. “If a single student is sleeping in their car or goes without a meal, then we have to do more.”

In an effort to address these issues, Thurmond authored AB 2920 with the aim to reduce homelessness, specifically in Berkeley. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law Sept. 26.

Thurmond said at the town hall that he’s made a career out of introducing controversial legislation. Last year he introduced a measure to the state Assembly urging the censure of President Donald Trump. Thurmond added that as superintendent, he would “push back” against U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Trump in order to protect students from “aggressive debt collectors.”

“I’ve spent the last four years introducing bills that people said I should never introduce,” Thurmond said at the town hall. “People ask me every single day why I would risk leaving the Assembly. … My answer is always the same: Our kids are facing so much risk, so I am, too.”

Thurmond said in the teleconference that the town hall would be “a beginning, not an ending conversation.” His campaign manager Maddie Franklin said at the town hall that Thurmond will host another town hall on improving literacy in California on Oct. 24.

Contact Rachel Barber at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.