Governor’s budget is a welcome relief despite new obstacles

Jacob Wilson/Staff

Andrew Albright and Sydney Fang authored this op-ed.

On Jan. 5th, Governor Jerry Brown released his proposed budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year, laying out how he will address the $9.2 billion budget deficit. His budget includes cuts to services such as education and welfare, in addition to taxes to alleviate some of these cuts. These taxes include a tax on high-earning Californians and a half-cent increase on the sales tax.

The proposed taxes will be on the November 2012 ballot, and much of the revenues generated from these taxes will go directly to the community college, CSU and UC systems. The Higher Education budget component is a significant improvement on past proposals, but it does not go far enough to maintain the current standard of education in California and instead creates new obstacles to the accessibility of education.

An example of one such obstacle is a proposal to raise the minimum GPA requirement for Cal Grant A and Cal Grant B applicants. Many low-income and middle-income students rely on Cal Grants as an important source of financial aid and would be most affected by this new requirement.

The intent of the Governor’s proposal is to focus the most resources on students who are most likely to complete their degrees. However, the new GPA requirement will deny 26,000 students across the state access to Cal Grants A and B, and consequently, many of these students will have an additional financial burden that will diminish their opportunities for higher education.

Students who would have qualified for Cal Grants under the previous GPA requirement need this financial aid the most. The governor’s proposal would also disproportionately affect low-income students because, while the minimum GPA requirement for Cal Grant A has changed from  3.0 to 3.25, the equivalent requirement for Cal Grant B (specifically for low-income students) has changed from  2.0 to 2.7; such a change would reduce the number of high-need students who would otherwise receive aid.

Another issue arises in the governor’s proposal to phase out the student loan assumption program for teachers. Under this program, teachers working in schools that “serve a large population of students from low-income families” or schools that “rank in the lowest 20 percentile of the Academic Performance Index” will have a portion of their outstanding student loans forgiven, according to the California Student Aid Commission.  In other words, these are teachers working in schools that truly need them the most. The elimination of this program is nothing more than a band-aid solution to balance the budget; However, it does not deal, in any substantive manner, with the real problem of a broken education system. Furthermore, it only exacerbates the disparity of resource allocation to schools in this state, pushing schools in lower-income neighborhoods to the back of the school bus. This is a program that directly benefits low-income families and schools, and in this time of cuts, the governor should not be balancing the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it.

While many issues exist in this proposal, an important aspect of the Governor’s budget is the stable funding source for California public universities. The Governor proposes that “the state will increase its… contribution to each institution’s prior year base by a minimum of four percent per year… contingent upon the passage of the Governor’s tax initiative.” If voters approve the new tax initiative, each community college, UC and CSU will receive an increase of four percent in funding each year through 2016. This funding could begin alleviating damage to public higher education caused by the state’s disinvestment from education in recent years. However, if the taxes do not pass, UCs and CSUs collectively could face a cut of $400 million. Regardless, it is refreshing to see the governor advocate renewed taxes to provide a stable and increasing source of revenue to institutions of higher learning. Now it is imperative that students make their voices heard and turn out to the polls this November to secure the future of higher education.

Andrew Albright and Sydney Fang are ASUC senators with the CalSERVE party.