A look at Proposition 92

January 24, 2008 4:56:16 PM PST
A look at Proposition 92, the measure that assures that California's community colleges get a guaranteed amount of funding every year.

The proposition also reduces tuition fees and makes sure they stay affordable. So what does this measure mean for California's economy?

Diana Munoz represents the future of California's economy. She's majoring in industrial engineering at San Francisco's City College.

"People want us to stay competitive and we need education to stay competitive," said San Francisco City College studentDiana Munoz.

But for many students, higher education is too costly. Community colleges have long provided an opportunity to students who may not otherwise get into a four-year university.

But in recent years, these two-year colleges have become somewhat unaffordable for some, going from $11 dollars a unit to $18 dollars in 2003-2004, and then up again to $26 dollars a unit in 2004-2005 -- because of California's budget crisis. That increase had a dramatic effect on enrollment.

"According to the Chancellor's Office the Data Mark Report, more than 300,000 students did not enroll. So, that's tragic in my mind," said Dennis Smith from the California Federation of Teachers.

Dennis Smith is with the California Federation of Teachers which represents 30-percent of community college teachers.

The cost per unit has since been rolled back to $20 dollars a unit. That's about $300 dollars a semester if you're a full time student. Tuition at California community colleges are among the lowest in the nation.

"It may not seem much to me or you, but I know my students so they have to choose between food or coming to school," said Smith.

In 2004, thousands of students marched to the Capitol to protest these tuition hikes. It was there that a grass roots movement was formed. The goal was to come up with a way to keep tuition fees low: enter Proposition 92.

"Proposition 92, most importantly would establish a new funding guarantee for California's community college system," said Jean Ross from the California Budget Project.

As it stands now, roughly 40-percent of California's general fund goes to the K-12 system and community colleges. But with Proposition 92, community colleges wouldn't have to share their funding with the K-12 system.

Community colleges would have their own portion of the state budget, guaranteed. By having that money earmarked every year, proponents say fees would be reduced to $15 dollars a unit.

Any increase would have to be voted on by two-thirds, or 66-percent of the legislature. With Proposition 92, the formula used to fund K-12 would remain the same, but in bad economic times schools could see less money.

Two neutral parties have done an assessment of Proposition 92. One of them, the legislative analyst's office, believes the measure will cost the state about 300 million per year for the first three years.

That's in addition to the $4.4. billion dollars community colleges already receive from the state. Student fees and property taxes add to their budget, totaling about $9 billion.

"In our analysis, I can tell you that we found that Proposition 92 would require the state to spend more money for education," said Paul Steenhausen from the Legislative Analyst's Office.

Jean Ross is with the California Budget Project. She says there is no new way to pay for the measure.

"It means they would have to cut spending in a different part of the budget or they would have to raise taxes for Californians," said Ross.

Both the University of California Regents and the California Teachers Association oppose Proposition 92.

"It is going to put another pressure especially on our current budget situation on K-12 education. It is going to put pressure on the UC system, on Cal state system and probably other parts of the budget that we all care about," said Eric Heins from the California Teachers' Association.

Proposition 92 supporters have yet to come up with a way to fund the measure.

"This is a choice that the voters have to make as to whether or not they want to invest in the future of California's economy and into California's people and into students," said Smith.