LAO nixes Gov’s community college budget

Gov. Brown missed a chance to save millions for community colleges by reining in Board of Governors fee waivers, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. The LAO released its review of Brown’s 2012-13 higher education budget plan yesterday, and raised red flags on that program and on the governor’s proposals to make major changes in the way community colleges are funded, as well as big changes in categorical programs.

The report instead supports many of the recommendations in the recently released Student Success Task Force report, which was produced at the request of the Legislature.

“Enacting these changes would help the state better target resources toward CCC’s core missions, as well as create a strong incentive for students to achieve their educational goals within a reasonable time period. We thus recommend the Legislature enact these proposals,” wrote the LAO in its report.

The LAO’s analysis gave a fair amount of ink to the Board of Governors fee waivers, which have been increasing so rapidly that 70 percent of students may get a free ride next year. Already, the waivers have eaten into nearly the entire $110 million that community colleges were supposed to raise this academic year by raising fees from $26 to $36 per unit.

BOG fee waiver trends (Source: Leg. Analyst) click to enlarge.
BOG fee waiver trends (Source: Leg. Analyst) click to enlarge.

“A large financial aid program the governor does not address is that of the Board of Governors fee waiver program at the community colleges,” said the LAO’s managing principal analyst Steve Boilard in taped comments accompanying the report. “What we suggest are ways to rein in the costs of this program and to better leverage the program to increase student access.”

As the LAO notes, the Student Success Task Force has recommended just that. It calls for a higher threshold for aid – currently students have to show just $1 of need to qualify – and for requiring students to show progress toward their degree or transfer plan in order to continue receiving waivers.

Revamping funding system

To the relief of the Community College Chancellor’s Office, the LAO calls for a flat-out rejection of the governor’s proposal to change the way community colleges are funded. Dan Troy, the Vice Chancellor of Finance, said Gov. Brown wants to scrap the system of funding community colleges based on FTES, or full-time equivalent students, and replace it with something not fully developed.

For the 2012-13 school year, colleges would receive the same amount of funding they get this year, unless the Chancellor’s office comes up with an alternative methodology for allocating the money. “Changing a major $6 billion system of finance could have some unintended consequences,” said Troy. “I would suggest that if the governor wants to entertain changes or give more flexibility, we’re willing to engage in some discussion about it in a more deliberate manner.”

There’s little agreement among the Governor, the LAO or the Chancellor’s office when it comes to the proposal to consolidate funding for all 21 categorical programs into a single flex item.  Gov. Brown’s budget plan would also eliminate many of the community college mandates and give districts a lot of discretion on how they spend the money – nearly $400 million this year.  A few mandates would remain, including funding for the Foster Parent Education Program.

The LAO gives the plan a mixed review in its report:  “We agree that districts would benefit from more categorical flexibility. We have concerns, however, that the Governor’s approach could result in local decisions that undermine the Legislature’s original intent for these funds.”

The Student Success Task Force also expressed concerns about the bureaucratic inefficiency of requiring local campuses to manage nearly two dozen separate programs.  But the panel isn’t ready to propose a sweeping consolidation.  Instead, it calls on the legislature to streamline reporting requirements for the programs, and urges the colleges to “break down programmatic silos and voluntarily collaborate in an effort to improve the success of students.”

Dan Troy said the Chancellor’s office isn’t about to support any proposals that differ  from the Student Success Task Force proposals.  “We have a well vetted plan there,” he said, “and wouldn’t want to deviate from that.”

Author: Kathryn Baron

Kathryn Baron, co-writer of TOP-Ed (Thoughts On Public Education in California), has been covering education in California for about 15 years; most of that time at KQED Public Radio where her reports aired on The California Report as well as various National Public Radio programs. She also wrote for magazines and newspapers before going virtual as producer and editor at The George Lucas Educational Foundation. Kathy grew up in New York in a family of teachers. She moved to California for graduate school and after spending one sunny New Year’s Day riding her bicycle in the foothills, decided to stay. She and her husband live in Belmont. They have two children, one in college and one in high school.

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