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Higher Education Funding is Unfinished Business for State Legislature

Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine
Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine co-chair the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. Ackerman is a former California State Senator and Assemblyman, and Levine is a former U.S. Congressman and State Assemblyman.

Speaker of the Assembly Toni Atkins and her colleagues in the Assembly Budget Committee deserve kudos for passing SB872 to restore $100 million in desperately needed funding for California State University and the University of California. The Senate Budget Committee, in rejecting SB 872, got it wrong.

Speaker Atkins understands public higher education is our engine for growth and opportunity, and we applaud her leadership, along with her colleagues. The State Senate needs to follow suit. This leaves public higher education funding as a major piece of unfinished business for the state Legislature before August 31.

Here’s the background. The 2014-15 State Budget deal signed by Governor Brown proposed one-time additional monies for UC and CSU that would be triggered should the state receive higher than anticipated property tax revenues. Well, the state’s General Fund balance did receive a $400 million surplus from streams other than property taxes. Atkins is advocating restoration of the funding.

So, the funds are there. Let’s talk benefit and need. No one disputes that CSU and UC drive our economy and quality of life. UC alone contributes more than $14 billion in economic activity to the state—and that doesn’t include thousands of UC-related spinoffs that provide high paying jobs and contribute vital tax dollars. With such a blue chip investment available to the state, surely Sacramento takes advantage of it, right? Not.

  • A Public Policy Institute of California study found California will be one million college graduates short of economic demand by 2025 unless enrollment and graduation rates improve substantially.
  • A California Budget Project report found that State General Fund spending per student at CSU and the UC remain near the lowest point in more than 30 years.

It’s also important to keep two things in mind regarding the budget. First, while Gov. Brown and the state Legislature increased general fund revenues for UC and CSU by five percent, that was only about a 2.5 percent increase overall because tuition and fees, which pay about half the cost of educating UC and CSU students, have been frozen. Second, the budget failed to include any funding for enrollment growth, despite the fact that UC and CSU are already educating more than 23,000 California students for which they are not being paid by the state. That translates to a $190 million budget shortfall.

When viewed in this light, state support is anemic. The need for one-time funds is also serious, to help address the need for deferred maintenance, instructional equipment, graduate student support and other essentials. We could go on. But, we prefer to focus on the positive. We’re particularly encouraged that SB 872 would make the $100 million permanent in 2015-16 and beyond, depending upon the economic recovery and contingent upon state General Fund growth being used to increase California enrollment and improving student services. That’s a smart approach.

The California Coalition for Public Higher Education was formed to re-prioritize public higher education in Sacramento and help us ensure an accessible, high quality university education is available to all Californians. For the first time, in a long time, key leaders in Sacramento have stepped up to say YES to public higher education.   We hope the California Legislature will hit a home run for all of California.

Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine co-chair the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. Ackerman (R) is a former California State Senate Leader and Assemblyman, and Levine (D) is a former U.S. Congressman and State Assemblyman. Please visit yestohighered.org

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