State lawmakers discuss Middle Class Scholarship Act with students at UC Berkeley

Dylan White/Staff
Speaker John Perez and Congresswoman Nancy Skinner speak about the Middle Class Scholarship in April.

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California State Assembly Speaker John Perez and Assemblymember Nancy Skinner met with UC, CSU and community college students at a roundtable at UC Berkeley Thursday to discuss the Middle Class Scholarship Act.

The act would slash fees by two-thirds for students with family incomes of less than $150,000 who do not already have their fees covered. At the roundtable, which was hosted by the ASUC in its senate chambers, the legislators encouraged middle class students to communicate with local representatives about struggles they have faced while financing their education. Around 50 students attended.

For the Middle Class Scholarship Act to pass, it needs a two-thirds vote in each house, which Perez and Skinner said highlights the importance of showing legislators from all over the state how the bill will positively affect students.

According to Skinner and Perez, the best way to do this is for California students to tell their own stories about the experiences they have had financing their education.

“This is not just about UC Berkeley, or UCLA or UC Irvine. This is about neighborhoods and communities up and down the state and about restoring California’s educational greatness and bringing relief to you and all of your families,” Skinner said at the roundtable. “We encourage you to help us get that two-thirds. It is not impossible but the work you have already done so far and the work you continue to do will help us get to that place.”

Cooperative Movement senator and presidential candidate Elliot Goldstein recalled his own family struggles with the current financial aid models at the roundtable. Goldstein said his mother had received a raise after ten years of working but had to turn it down so that he would still be eligible for financial aid.

“It is just this arbitrary cut-off that her hard-earned raise would have denied my family, costing us thousands of dollars more to go to UC Berkeley, and we could not have afforded this,” Goldstein said.

To prevent other families from having to make difficult decisions like these, Goldstein suggested the ASUC fund buses for the summer and recruit students from all of the California public university systems to knock on the doors of legislators and advocate for the Middle Class Scholarship Act.

Support for the act comes on the heels of a nearly decade-long strain on budget in California’s higher education system, as UC fees have increased 145 percent since the 2003-04 school year. According to Perez, passage of the act would benefit the California public school system as a whole, benefiting middle class students enrolled at UC, CSU and community college campuses statewide.

The money to fund the scholarship would come from closing a loophole that allows out-of-state corporations to choose the tax rate they owe California. Because of this loophole, out-of-state corporations gain about a billion dollars in tax advantages over the in-state companies they are competing with, Perez said in an interview.

When asked if passage of this bill would put more strain on current higher education funding issues, Perez said no money for the scholarship act would come from general funds.

“It has no general fund impact whatsoever, it is literally taking the benefit of this loophole that only benefits out of state corporations, closing that loophole, and using the money directly to get economic benefit to our middle class students,” he said in an interview.