FIRST PERSONStudents get a glimpse of Democracy

Seth Nidever
March 26, 2004
Filed under Opinion

SACRAMENTO – While thousands of community college students gathered outside to protest Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to increase fees, a group of Bakersfield College instructors met with state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, in his Capitol office on March 15 to argue against the proposed hikes.

They told Florez the state should honor Prop. 98, a 1988 ballot measure which they said guaranteed community colleges exactly 10.93 percent of whatever money the state allocates for public schools below the four-year university level.

Prop. 98 guaranteed a minimum level of funding for elementary, secondary, and community college education but didn’t specify how it would be distributed. The group said that enabling legislation guaranteed community colleges a 10.93 percent piece of the Prop. 98 pie.

And they asserted that community colleges have consistently received less than that percentage, resulting in a cumulative loss of $4 billion.

According to Eso, the legislature has suspended Prop. 98 almost every year since 1988 so that K-12 can get more than the original 89.07% they were entitled to.

Eso also claimed that Schwarzenegger made a deal with the California Teacher’s Association to cut in half the amount owed by K-12.

“Personally, I think it was just, they could do that so publicly they could say they gave up 2 billion dollars,” said Eso.

In a March 17 telephone interview, Ken Meier, vice president of student learning at BC, agreed with that assessment.

“When politicians are faced with these (budget) shortfalls, they find it easier to lowball the community colleges,” he said.

“I do think the kinds of marches that happened alert politicians that they need to be more proactive,” he added

In a separate interview with The Rip, H. D. Palmer, a spokesman for the California Department of Finance, said that the $2 billion was in fact an across-the-board cut.

“It’s part of an effort to close the state’s budget gap,” he said.

Palmer pointed out that the governor is proposing to actually increase community college funding at the same time fees are being raised.

“No pun intended, that’s an academic argument,” he said, referring to the Prop. 98 issue. “Community colleges are the one area of the budget where the governor is actually going to increase expenditures.”

Palmer noted that community college fees will still be lower than any other state.

He also said that the increased fees would be offset by greater access to federal financial aid.

“It seems counterintuitive, but you actually need to increase fees in order to draw in more federal money,” Palmer stated.

Palmer said fees will be waived altogether for the neediest 33 percent of students.

“Financial aid will not be a real hindrance (to attendance),” he said.

In the meeting, Florez said he thought community colleges would receive more money this year.

“What’s told to us in our caucus is that community colleges are doing better than they were last year,” he said.

Eso acknowledged that there was an increase in funding, but he said it didn’t make up for last year’s cuts.

We were decimated previously,” he said.

Privately, Eso expressed his hope that the march would give community colleges more political clout.

So did Sarah Molina, a business administration major who showed up in the pre-dawn darkness to join a handful of other BC students for the long bus ride to Sacramento.

“To me, they’re not messing with just my education, they’re messing with my life, with my future,” she said. “And so, I figure, that’s good enough for me to get up at 3:30 in the morning.”

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