Volume 44, Number 4 - June/July 2009
Deficit made worse by failure of ballot propositions
Getting California back on the road to economic recovery has been made more difficult with community colleges facing severe budget cuts that will force them to shut the doors to thousands of students needing job retraining.
More than a quarter of a million students will be prevented from enrolling in community colleges due to a projected $825 million cut in funding. The cuts come at a time when enrollment is also expected to dramatically increase due to an influx of students turned away from the California State University and UC systems.
The state’s budget deficit was made worse by the voters’ rejection of the May 19 ballot propositions, which is expected to result in a shortfall as high as $24.3 billion.
To help close that deficit, the governor has proposed cutting support programs for needy and disabled students and phasing out Cal Grants, which provided some financial aid to qualified students. Currently, almost 68,000 community college students receive Cal Grants. Although the Legislative Conference Committee on the Budget voted to reject the governor’s Cal Grant proposal, the issue is anything but dead.
"Many of these people are single mothers and fathers who rely on these funds to return to college so they can get better jobs," said Rene Yves Kouassi, student body president at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut. "This is going to make a big difference in their lives and the lives of their children."
"We’re looking at this as the new civil rights movement. Education should be a right for everyone, and not a privilege only for those who can afford it."
BethAnn Skermont is one of those people. Living on social security payments of $1,000 a month and supporting her 23-year-old son who recently had to move back home, she counts on financial aid, a $700-a-semester Cal Grant, and work study in order to complete studies at Imperial Valley College that will allow her to transfer into a teacher credential program.
"Without financial aid, I can’t afford books, or even get back and forth to school. It would be devastating to me," she said.
In response to the proposed cuts, Community College students from around the state rallied in Sacramento this spring and sent representatives to testify at a hearing on the governor’s May Revision proposal at the capitol on June 1. Many are hoping to continue their activity through the summer.
"We’re looking at this as the new civil rights movement. Education should be a right for everyone, and not a privilege only for those who can afford it," said Sammy Castillo, incoming student body president at Rio Hondo College, who will work with other campus leaders in Southern California through Facebook this summer to mobilize students.
A costly price
"The state will pay a costly price when we begin to turn away students who come to community colleges for further education, job skills and retraining. California’s community colleges have been where local people turn to in a time of economic crisis. But I don’t see how we will be able to serve them without the funding that’s necessary," said CCA President Ron Norton Reel.
Although full-time community college faculty are not expected to receive the lay-off notices sent to some 27,000 of their colleagues in the K-12 system, the loss will fall heavily on thousands of part-time faculty whose classes will be eliminated.
"We call it ‘the invisible pink slips’ because these faculty never receive lay-off notices. They just have their classes cancelled," said David Milroy, CCA secretary and a part-time instructor. He estimates that as many as 10,000 contingent instructors will leave the system.
Major impact on students
"This has a major impact on students who won’t be able to get the classes they need, because sections and classes will be eliminated. Our students have difficulties getting into their classes now, and this will exacerbate their problems," Milroy said.
Jack Scott, chancellor of the California Community system echoed those sentiments. "As the chancellor leading our 110 colleges, it is my job to inform state leaders we simply cannot continue to be an effective safety net for displaced workers, train our nation’s nurses and firefighters and retool workers to serve in green job if the proposed cuts are enacted."
The California Teachers Association, which supported all the propositions on the ballot, will move forward with legal action to make sure that $9.3 billion owed to education will be repaid. Proposition 1B on the state ballot had set up a repayment plan for the funds owed to schools and community colleges.
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