Jerry Brown Proposes Inadequate Higher Education Budget

BY HANK REICHMAN

Faculty members in other states may be excused for expressing some jealousy of California’s economic and political success since Jerry Brown was elected governor nearly eight years ago.  While Republican-led states like Kansas, Iowa, or Wisconsin continue to suffer slow growth and calamitous budget shortfalls and cuts, under Brown and a Democratic super-majority in the Legislature California has not only stabilized its finances but, as a November report, “California is Working,” by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education documents, the state has also seen marked improvement in its economy, environment, and in the well-being of its population.  Extensive reform legislation in the areas of workers’ rights, the safety net, the environment, taxation, and infrastructure and housing have, despite warnings from the Right that these would be “job killers,” succeeded in “meeting goals for increased wage growth and health insurance access and decreases in carbon emissions and wage inequality, without reducing employment or impeding economic growth.”  (California, however, has yet to address the myriad problems associated with skyrocketing property values and rents and a concomitant growth of homelessness.)

Nonetheless when it comes to higher education over thirty years of inadequate funding continues to take its toll and Brown’s budgets have at best only held the line, if they have not made things worse.  This week the governor released his initial proposal for the 2018-19 fiscal year and it was more of the same.  Take his proposal for the California State University, which serves over a half-million students at its 23 campuses.  CSU Chancellor Timothy White and the Board of Trustees had requested an increase of $282.9 million, which, in an open letter to the trustees, the California Faculty Association (CFA), an AAUP affiliate representing over 25,000 CSU faculty members, deemed “inadequate” and destined to result in “another student tuition increase, shifting even more of the burden from those entrusted to protect California’s public higher education system onto our students and their families.”  CFA proposed an increase of $422.6 million, which would fund a 5% increase in enrollment.  Last year the system turned away one in ten eligible students — some 31,000 people — owing in good measure to inadequate funding.  Brown nevertheless proposed an increase of just $92.1 million for the CSU, which amounts to 1.4 percent of the university’s operating budget.

In a public statement Chancellor White called the proposal “both concerning and surprising.  By nearly any measure, the CSU is fulfilling its mission better than ever before.  Yet the proposed level of funding, as a percent of our operating budget, provides an increase to our operating budget that is half the rate of inflation.  Directives and constraints within the proposal further limit our ability to address critical university needs.”

“By not allowing qualified students access, we’re failing them before they even have a chance to walk in the classroom,” said CFA President Jennifer Eagan. “It’s time for our state to stand up for the CSU—for our students, for our university, and for the future of California.”  As Brown’s proposal was being released on Wednesday the union constructed an “art installation” on the Capitol lawn, with 1,570 empty chairs, each representing 20 qualified students turned away from the university.

The previous day the San Francisco Chronicle reported “that while money is critical, even a higher allocation would not immediately give the 23-campus system enough room for all the students who qualify.”  The story continued:

Only six of the 23 CSU campuses have enough room to accommodate all qualified freshmen, while just seven can take all qualified transfer students. Meanwhile, state Education Department records show that the number of high school graduates who qualify for CSU has more than doubled in the past 20 years, to 194,689 students from 96,879. CSU applications are also on the rise.

The University of California would receive a 3 percent increase to its general fund under the proposed budget, which UC Regents Chair George Kieffer and President Janet Napolitano said in a written statement was “less than we anticipated under the framework we established with the governor,” referring to a 2015 budget deal.  “That agreement acknowledged the need for ongoing, predictable state funding to maintain UC quality and access while requiring the university to lower its cost structure.”

“The governor’s budget plan does not include funding for UC enrollment growth,” the statement added.  “The university is committed to adding an additional 2,000 California undergraduates in fall 2018, including 1,500 that it will fund from its own resources.  We have also requested support to add 500 more graduate students, who are critical to the university’s research mission and to meeting the state’s workforce needs.”

In response the governor called the increase “enough,” adding that

They’re not gonna get anymore.  And they’ve got to manage.  I think they need a little more scrutiny over how they are spending things.  It’s just because the University is a good they say ‘we’ve got to have more good’ -but if you have too much good it -in certain circumstances – -it becomes a bad.  So they’re gonna have to live within their means.  And what will happen here is when the next recession they’ll have to put everything in reverse and lay people off and raise tuition and that’s not a good thing.  So, they’ve got to lower the cost structure and there are tools to do that and they need to step up and more creatively engage in the process of making education more affordable.”

In a tweet Christopher Newfield, Professor of English at UC, Santa Barbara and author of The Great Mistake, said Brown’s proposed budget “reneges on previous deal, punishes students for the sins of their administrators, and demands an online CC campus that will lower attainment for students of color.”

The new online community college campus was critical to the governor’s budget for community colleges.  Under Brown’s proposal, the state would spend an initial $100 million to get the college going, then spend $20 million a year from voter-approved Proposition 98, a pool of money in the general fund that already supports California’s community colleges and K-12 education.  Although anyone could enroll, the college would focus on adults age 25 and older. The idea is to work with employers in a range of careers: health care, home support services, and child development to begin with, then add more in time, said Eloy Ortiz Oakley, the state’s community college chancellor, who supports the idea.  If approved by the Legislature, the online school would seek accreditation and open in fall 2019 as the state’s 115th community college.  The state community college Board of Governors would serve as the school’s trustees, at least at first.

“This is targeted to several million people who can upgrade their skills by taking online courses and maintaining their employment, which they certainly need,” Brown said.

“I don’t want to say that online is categorically bad,” responded Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, which represents thousands of community college instructors. “It probably has its place.  But generally, we feel that what makes education work well is when an instructor is interacting with students.”

In addition to the online initiative, the proposed budget for community colleges includes a 2.5% COLA while seeking a dramatic shift in how colleges are funded so as to reward “completion metrics.”  The proposed budget offers no new money for full-time hiring or part-time faculty support, as had been urged by community college faculty groups.  In a statement the Faculty Association for the California Community Colleges (FACCC) said:

While FACCC is grateful to Governor Brown for his continued support of the California Community College system it is extremely concerned about embracing a funding formula which could shut out vulnerable students who cannot complete educational goals within prescribed time periods.  Additionally, FACCC is disappointed in the absence of funding for such priorities as full-time faculty hiring, support for part-time faculty categoricals, and professional development as academic infrastructure must be the top priority in these budget discussions to achieve student success.  Further, FACCC opposes a wholesale consolidation of categorical programs, and calls upon the Legislature to recognize the amazing (and documented) track record of our statewide student service programs

Overall the centerpiece of Brown’s proposed $190.3 billion budget is a $5 billion investment in the state’s so-called rainy day fund, which he championed with a 2014 ballot initiative to steady California’s boom and bust finances.  Under the proposal the rainy day fund would hold 10 percent of California’s general fund revenue. That would give the state $13.5 billion to use in a fiscal emergency by June 30, 2019.  In May the governor will propose a revised budget plan based on initial 2018 revenue collection and response to this week’s proposals by legislators and the public.

A coalition of higher education faculty and labor groups has been advocating for a $48 fix, a proposed 12.6% income tax surcharge that would cost the median taxpayers just $48 annually as a way of providing free tuition in the UC and CSU and restoring higher ed funding to year 2000 levels.  The proposal has been endorsed by the California conference of the AAUP.

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