Trends in California ed bills

Tomorrow is primary day, but last Friday also marked some significant yeas and nays. It was the final day for bills before the State Legislature to pass out of the house where they were introduced, also known as their house of origin.

One of the big trends in legislation this year is an effort to move the pendulum back from zero tolerance in schools to something more nuanced. Starting from the top, with State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, lawmakers introduced nine bills.

As we reported in April, Senator Steinberg and other legislators were disturbed by a report called Suspended Education in California, which found that the harshest punishments were carried out with clear racial disparity.

Steinberg’s bill, SB 1235, requires schools with suspension rates above 25 percent, overall or for a specific racial or ethnic group, to implement a research-based alternative that holds the students accountable for their misbehavior but keeps them in school.

Sherry Griffith, a legislative advocate for the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), finds some irony in the number of bills on the issue, and she urges caution.

“Last year we were in the zero tolerance for bullying, and this year it’s okay to keep them (disruptive and angry students) on campus unless it’s critical,” said Griffith.

ACSA has been fairly active this session in addressing the problem of misbehavior by teachers. The situation in Los Angeles Unified School District, in which a teacher accused of lewd acts on children was on the job for years before being removed from the classroom, has sparked numerous bills that would make it easier for school districts to take action against teachers accused of similar conduct. SB 1530, sponsored by Sen. Alex Padilla, adds “serious and egregious” conduct to the types of behavior that will get a teacher removed immediately.

“We support the Padilla bill. We can’t even imagine how anyone can’t support expediting the removal of a teacher in that situation,” said Griffith. “The funny thing is, schools are one of the safest places for kids to be, any time. And we have to keep that focus and not get lax about it.”

Building Student Success Task Force

After a year of meetings and public hearings, members of the Community College Student Success Task Force are watching to see what happens to SB 1456, carried by Sen. Alan Lowenthal. The Long Beach Democrat has introduced the Student Success Act, which begins to implement some of the recommendations in the Task Force report.

The bill covers two major sections of the report: funding priorities that promote student success and support, and requirements for Board of Governors fee waivers. The first part centers on putting money into services critical to students’ success at the front end, such as orientation, academic assessment, and helping students develop an education plan. Community College Vice Chancellor for Government Relations Marlene Garcia says there’s abundant research showing that one of the “key factors in student success in college is having a goal and having a plan.”

The second part is a bit more controversial: It would tighten eligibility for Board of Governors fee waivers. If students fall below a 2.0 GPA for two consecutive terms, they lose their waiver. “For the first time we’re saying students need to meet satisfactory academic standards,” said Garcia.

Requests for waivers have been rising along with community college fees. About 62 percent of students receive the waivers, and that could rise to 70 percent within the next couple of years.

While she understands that this is a philosophical issue for some, especially low-income students, Garcia said the purpose isn’t to separate students from their Board of Governors waivers. “It’s to signal to students the kind of behavior that’s likely to lead them to success. A GPA below 2.0 is not putting you on a track toward success.”

Status of key education bills as of June 4, 2012

(The following is the first page of a multi-page chart. Click here for entire chart)


Middle class tuition break at UC, CSU

Four Republican legislators crossed party lines in the Assembly on Wednesday, providing the two-thirds vote needed to approve a bill that would create a middle class scholarship program for the state’s public college and university students.

AB 1501 is part of a two-bill package called the Middle Class Scholarship Act introduced by Assembly speaker John A. Pérez, a Los Angeles Democrat, that would reduce tuition by two-thirds for students attending the University of California and California State University whose families earn less than $150,000 a year.

In urging a yes vote, Pérez cited the enormous fee hikes at the state’s public colleges and universities, noting that in the past decade tuition has increased by 191 percent at Cal State, by 145 percent at the University of California, and by 300 percent at community colleges. Meanwhile, state support for UC and CSU has dropped by 21 percent and 26 percent respectively since 2005.

10 year history of changes in CSU tuition. (Source: California State University). Click to enlarge.
Ten-year history of changes in CSU tuition. (Source: California State University.) Click to enlarge.

“This means that for thousands of California families, higher education entails increasingly difficult tradeoffs,” said Pérez; tradeoffs that would either compel parents to make huge sacrifices, or force students to take on massive loan debt. “For many Californians those tradeoffs are too great, and they make the reluctant decision to forego a higher education altogether.”

Student loan debt now exceeds $1 trillion nationally, more than all U.S. credit card debt. Statewide, according to the California Student Aid Commission, there’s been a double-digit increase every year for the past three years in the number of students who qualify for loans and for the state’s Cal Grant awards.

Under AB 1501, eligible Cal State students would save $4,000 per year, or $16,000 over four years, while UC students would save about $8,200 per year, or nearly $33,000 over a four-year period. Students from families earning between $150,000 and $160,000 a year would be entitled to assistance at a lower level; their scholarships would be reduced by 10 percent for each $1,000 in family income over $150,000. California community colleges would receive $150 million to help students defray the cost of textbooks and offset other educational expenses.

Lack of investment “criminal”

Modesto Assemblymember Kristin Olsen, vice chair of the Higher Education Committee and one of the Republicans who broke ranks and supported the measure, defended her position during the floor debate as a vote for the state’s economic prosperity.

“We have slashed state investment in higher education, and that’s criminal,” Olsen said. “One of the only ways we’re going to grow a strong economy over the long term is by investing in our public universities to make sure that we are graduating educated employees who are prepared to compete in a global workforce.”

She noted that wealthy families can afford to pay tuition, and low-income families have various options for state and federal aid, but middle-income families are being hit hard by escalating tuition and the faltering economy.

But her colleague in the GOP caucus, Assemblymember Tim Donnelly from Twin Peaks, wasn’t moved, except to sarcasm. “I see these programs and they sound so nice – middle class scholarship fund – woo-hoo, hallelujah, Praise the Lord! I love it, sounds wonderful, why don’t we give one to everybody?” he quipped. “Oh yeah, there’s a slight little problem: we don’t have the money.”

Donnelly blamed union wage demands and injudicious spending decisions by UC and CSU for their financial problems, especially giving huge pay raises to new campus presidents while increasing student fees. Then he offered this sage advice: “I remember when I went to school. I went to the University of California at Irvine; I got three jobs to pay my way through. My idea of a middle class scholarship is a job.”

Half a loaf

While there is some disagreement among Republicans on AB 1501, they are united in their opposition to its companion bill, AB 1500. This is the half that pays for the Middle Class Scholarship Act.

Pérez wants to fund it by closing a loophole in the 2009 Corporation Tax Law that gave companies operating in both California and another state the option of computing their taxes using either the Single Sales Factor (SSF), which is based on their California sales, or another formula that gives the companies more flexibility on how much taxes they’ll pay. The policy was adopted in one of those never-well-thought-through budget deals reached in the middle of the night.

Requiring those companies to move to the SSF would increase the state’s general fund by about $1 billion in 2013-14, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. In fact, the LAO recommended that the state take that action two years ago.

Gov. Brown tried to change the law last year, by getting bipartisan support for AB 40X. The bill would have mandated the SSF and returned the revenue to businesses in the form of job credits as an incentive for hiring Californians. Although it passed the Assembly, the bill did not garner any GOP support in the Senate and died.

One of the sponsors of AB 40X was Assembly Republican Cameron Smyth of Santa Clarita. He’s also one of the four Republicans who voted yesterday for AB 1501. But in a phone call Wednesday afternoon, Smyth said he will not be supporting AB 1500.

“It would be another funding obligation from the state,” said Smyth. “I still think the Single Sales Factor needs to be reexamined, but I do have concerns, because unlike last year, this bill is a tax increase and it creates a new entitlement.”

Kristin Olsen and the other two Republicans who voted for AB 1501 – Katcho Achadjian from San Luis Obispo and Jeff Gorell of Camarillo – have also said they will not support the companion bill, but are willing to work with Speaker Pérez on finding a different funding source, such as savings from the governor’s pension reform proposal.

Assemblymember Olsen said adequate funding for public higher education ought to be a top priority in the general fund if California is committed to maintaining a premier public university system. But she’s not optimistic. “The direction that California is headed today, quite honestly, makes me fearful,” said Olsen, “and makes me question whether I will be able to send my three kids to college.”

‘Qualities of mind and heart’

For nearly two-and-a-half centuries Americans have fought and died to protect the nation’s fragile democracy. From the earliest days of the Union, the founding fathers recognized that maintaining freedom came with a cost and with a responsibility to ensure an educated citizenry.

President John F. Kennedy reaffirmed that conviction on June 6, 1963, in his commencement address to graduates of what was then known as San Diego State College. On this Memorial Day, we are sharing that speech as a reminder of a period in California’s not too distant past, when the Golden State led the nation in expanding the commitment to preparing future generations of educated citizens. Go here to listen to the president’s address. [Note:  All photos are courtesy of the San Diego State University Library, Special Collections.]

President Kennedy delivering the commencement address at San Diego State College on June 6, 1963.
President Kennedy delivering the commencement address at San Diego State College on June 6, 1963.

President Love, Governor Brown, Chairman Heilbron, trustees, fellow graduates, ladies and gentlemen:

I want to express a very warm sense of appreciation for the honor that you have given to me today, to be an instant graduate of this distinguished college. It is greatly appreciated and I am delighted to participate in what is a most important ceremony in the lives of us all.

One of the most impressive, if not the most impressive, accomplishments of this great Golden State has been the recognition by the citizens of this State of the importance of education as the basis for the maintenance of an effective, free society. This fact was recognized in our earliest beginnings at the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but I do not believe that any State in the Union has given more attention in recent years to educating its citizens to the highest level, doctoral level, in the State colleges, the junior colleges, the high schools, the grade schools. You recognize that a free society places special burdens upon any free citizen. To govern is to choose, and the ability to make those choices wise and responsible and prudent requires the best of all of us.San Diego State newspaper commemorating President Kennedy's visit.

No country can possibly move ahead, no free society can possibly be sustained, unless it has an educated citizenry whose qualities of mind and heart permit it to take part in the complicated and increasingly sophisticated decisions that pour not only upon the President and upon the Congress, but upon all the citizens who exercise the ultimate power.

I am sure that the graduates of this College recognize that the effort of the people of California – the Governor, the legislature, the local communities, the faculty – that this concentrated effort of mind and scholarship to educate the young citizens of this State has not been done merely to give this school’s graduates an economic advantage in the life struggle. Quite obviously, there is a higher purpose, and that is the hope that you will turn to the service of the State, the scholarship, the education, the qualities which society has helped develop in you; that you will render on the community level, or on the State level, or on the national level, or the international level a contribution to the maintenance of freedom and peace and the security of our country and those associated with it in a most critical time.

In so doing, you will follow a great and honorable tradition which combined American scholarship and American leadership in political affairs. It is an extraordinary fact of history, I think, unmatched since the days of early Greece, that this country should have produced during its founding days, in a population of a handful of men, such an extraordinary range of scholars and creative thinkers who helped build this country – Jefferson, Franklin, Morris, Wilson, and all the rest. This is a great tradition which we must maintain in our time with increasing strength and increasing vigor.

Those of you who are educated, those of us who recognize the responsibilities of an educated citizen, should now concern ourselves with whether we are providing an adequate education for all Americans, whether all Americans have an equal chance to develop their intellectual qualities, and whether we are preparing ourselves today for the educational challenges which are going to come before this decade is out.

President Kennedy delivering the commencement address at San Diego State, June 6, 1963. (Click to enlarge)
President Kennedy delivering the commencement address at San Diego State, June 6, 1963. (Click to enlarge)

The first question – and the most important –Does every American boy and girl have an opportunity to develop whatever talents they have? All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop those talents. Let me cite a few facts to show that they do not.

In this fortunate State of California the average current expenditure for a boy and girl in the public schools is $515, but in the State of Mississippi it is $230. The average salary for classroom teachers in California is $7,000, while in Mississippi it is $3,600. Nearly three-quarters of the young, white population of the United States have graduated from high school, but only about two-fifths of our nonwhite population has done the same.

In some States almost 40 percent of the nonwhite population has completed less than 5 years of school. Contrast it with 7 percent of the white population. In one American State, over 36 percent of the public school buildings are over 40 years of age. In another, only 4 percent are that old.

Such facts, and one could prolong the recital indefinitely, make it clear that American children today do not yet enjoy equal educational opportunities for two primary reasons: one is economic and the other is racial. If our Nation is to meet the goal of giving every American child a fair chance, because an uneducated American child makes an uneducated parent who, in many cases, produces another uneducated American child; we must move ahead swiftly in both areas.

And we must recognize that segregation and education, and I mean de facto segregation in the North as well as the proclaimed segregation in the South, brings with it serious handicaps to a large proportion of the population. It does no good, as you in California know better than any, to say that that is the business of another State. It is the business of our country, and in addition, these young uneducated boys and girls know no State boundaries and they come West as well as North and East, and they are your citizens as well as citizens of this country.

President Kennedy stands next to Governor Pat Brown as San Diego State President Malcolm Love speaks. (Click to enlarge)
President Kennedy stands next to Governor Pat Brown as San Diego State President Malcolm Love speaks. (Click to enlarge)

The second question relates to the quality of our education. Today 1 out of every 3 students in the fifth grade will drop out of high school, and only 2 out of 10 will graduate from college. In the meantime we need more educated men and women, and we need less and less unskilled labor. There are millions of jobs that will be available in the next 7 years for educated young men and women. The demand will be overwhelming, and there will be millions of people out of work who are unskilled because with new machines and technology there is less need for them. This combination of a tremendously increasing population among our young people, of less need for unskilled labor, of increasingly unskilled labor available, combines to form one of the most serious domestic problems that this country will face in the next 10 years.

Of Americans 18 years of age or older, more than 23 million have less than 8 years of schooling, and over 8 million have less than 5 years. What kind of judgment, what kind of response can we expect of a citizen who has been to school less than 5 years? And we have in this country 8 million who have been to school less than 5 years. As a result, they can’t read or write or do simple arithmetic. They are illiterate in this rich country of ours, and they constitute the hard core of our unemployed. They can’t write a letter to get a job, and they can’t read, in many cases, a help-wanted sign. One out of every 10 workers who failed to finish elementary school are unemployed, as compared to 1 out of 50 college graduates.

In short, our current educational programs, much as they represent a burden upon the taxpayers of this country, do not meet the responsibility. The fact of the matter is that this is a problem which faces us all, no matter where we live, no matter what our political views must be. “Knowledge is power,” as Francis Bacon said 500 years ago, and today it is truer than it ever was.

What are we going to do by the end of this decade? There are 4 million boys and girls born each year in the United States. Our population is growing each decade by a figure equal to the total population of this country at the time of Abraham Lincoln just 100 years ago. Our educational system is not expanding fast enough. By 1970 the number of students in our public elementary and secondary schools will have increased 25 percent over 1960. Nearly three-quarters of a million new classrooms will be needed, and we are not building them at that rate. By 1970 we will have 7 million students in our colleges and universities, 3 million more than we do today. We are going to double the population of our colleges and universities in 10 years. We are going to have to build as many school and college classrooms and buildings in 10 years as we did in 150 years.

By 1970 we will need 7,500 Ph. D.’s each year in the physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering. In 1960 we graduated 3,000. Such facts make it clear that we have a major responsibility and a major opportunity, one that we should welcome, because there is no greater asset in this country than an educated man or woman. Education, quite rightly, is the responsibility of the State and the local community, but from the beginning of our country’s history, from the time of the Northwest Ordinance, as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson recognized, from the time of the Morrill Act at the height of the Civil War, when the land grant college system was set up under the administration of President Lincoln, from the beginning it has been recognized that there must be a national commitment and that the National Government must play its role in stimulating a system of excellence which can serve the great national purpose of a free society. And it is for that reason that we have sent to the Congress of the United States legislation to help meet the needs of higher education, by assisting in the construction of college academic facilities, and junior colleges, and graduate centers, and technical institutes, and by stepping up existing programs for student loans and graduate fellowships and other student assistance programs.

We have to improve, and we have so recommended, the quality of our teachers by expanding teacher training institutes, by improving teacher preparation programs, by broadening educational research and by authorizing – and this is one of our greatest needs – increased training for teachers for the handicapped: the deaf, and those who can’t speak, and those who are otherwise handicapped. And it is designed to strengthen public elementary and secondary education through grants to the States for better teachers’ salaries, to relieve critical classroom shortages, to meet the special educational problems of depressed areas, and to continue and expand vocational education and counseling.

And finally, we must make a massive attack upon illiteracy in the year 1963 in the United States by an expansion of university extension courses and by a major effort to improve our libraries in every community of our country.

I recognize that this represents a difficult assignment for us all, but I don’t think it is an assignment from which we should shrink. I believe that education comes at the top of the responsibilities of any government, at whatever level. It is essential to our survival as a Nation in a dangerous and hazardous world, and it is essential to the maintenance of freedom at a time when freedom is under attack.

I have traveled in the last 24 hours from Washington to Colorado to Texas to here, and on every street I see mothers standing with two or three or four children. They are going to pour into our schools and our colleges in the next 10 or 20 years and I want this generation of Americans to be as prepared to meet this challenge as our forefathers did in making it possible for all of us to be here today. We are the privileged, and it should be the ambition of every citizen to express and expand that privilege so that all of our countrymen and women share it. Thank you.

A push for free college textbooks

During his nearly four years at UC Berkeley, Lucas Zucker has gone to great lengths to find affordable textbooks. He shopped online for the best deals and often waited weeks into the semester for the books to arrive from across the country; he shared books with classmates; he bought older editions with identical content that was rearranged; and one semester he didn’t buy some books because they were just too expensive.

“I couldn’t imagine what could possibly make any book cost $200,” the senior told members of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee at a hearing Wednesday afternoon.

Increases in textbook prices now outpace the rate of fee increases at the University of California and California State University, testified State Auditor Elaine Howle. As part of a 2008 report prepared at the committee’s request, Howle’s office surveyed students and found the average price of textbooks represents about 13 percent of the cost of a UC education, 22 percent at Cal State, and 59 percent for community college students – more than they pay for classes.

A survey by the consumer group CALPIRG revealed that 70 percent of students found themselves in the same predicament as Zucker and didn’t buy at least one required textbook due to the cost.

Student fees at UC and CSU rose by about 18 percent from 2004–05 through 2007–08, while the retail price for the textbooks increased by 28 percent. (Source: California Auditor) Click to enlarge.
Student fees at UC and CSU rose by about 18 percent from 2004–05 through 2007–08, while the retail price for the textbooks increased by 28 percent. (Source: California Auditor) Click to enlarge.

At a time when fees at California’s public colleges and universities are rising faster than an econ major can calculate the rate of inflation, the added burden of spending thousands of dollars on books is the college deal breaker for some students. So the committee focused much of the three-hour hearing on what California is doing to develop free digital texts.

“We have a completely broken system,” said former state senator Dean Florez, now president and CEO of 20 Million Minds Foundation, a nonprofit working to provide open source texts than can be modified by professors to create customized books for their classes. “Digital gives us a unique opportunity to end used books, to say that students can purchase a new, up-to-date book every time for the lowest possible cost.”

A number of companies have already entered the arena, the splashiest being Apple, which last month unveiled its new iBooks 2 digital textbook service for the iPad. It features interactive animation, photos, videos, and other cool tools, but requires cash-strapped schools to buy iPads for every student.

Nonprofits and foundations are offering something that’s more within reach.

“Access and affordability are integrally linked,” said Barbara Chow, Education Program Director for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. She told the panel research has shown that while rental and e-books can reduce costs, “open educational texts are the clear winners,” reducing textbook prices by as much as 80 percent.

Chow noted that a number of universities outside California have made significant advances in access and quality of the online materials.  Although there is an upfront cost of producing the materials, she said the savings can quickly catch up.  An open course library in the state of Washington recouped its start-up costs in the first year.

Arizona State University took it a step further.  A machine in the bookstore lets students print open source texts for $20, so they have a hard copy to write notes in the margins and highlight passages.

In 2008, Hewlett invested $10 million in grants to develop Open Educational Resources (OER), including more than half a million dollars to the Foothill-De Anza Community College District to pilot the Community College Open Textbook Project. It’s now affiliated with more than 200 colleges and conducts peer reviews of open source textbooks and works to raise awareness of the online books among faculty.

Even though open source gives faculty more control over their course materials, many have been slow to take to it.  “There are real challenges here with this new world of multiple formats,” explained James Postma, chair of the CSU Academic Senate.  “Faculty have to play the role of technical troubleshooters.  It has changed the job of faculty.”  For instance, Postma has to develop correlation guides so students know where to find the reading assignments depending on whether they’re using an iPad, iPod or laptop.

In December, State Senate pro Tem Darrell Steinberg made open source a key legislative initiative with a proposal to create Open Educational Resources in California that would give undergraduates free access to fifty core textbooks, and let them buy printed copies for about $20.  He said the legislation would save students nearly $1,000 a year.  [Click here to watch a YouTube video of his press conference announcing the proposal].

Textbook publishers weren’t vilified at the hearing, but they were taken to the woodshed for their practice of publishing new editions every few years that have minimal changes in content, but move the chapters around enough to make it confusing for students working with earlier versions.  For that, they up the price by about 12 percent.

Bruce Hildebrand, Executive Director of the Higher Education Division of the Association of American Publishers, walked a fine line at the hearing, wanting to play nicely while not giving up too much profit. “We were committed to the [state auditor’s] report, but as you can expect, we were cautious,” said Hildebrand.  “It’s going to have to be a partnership.  Are our prices coming down?  Yes, in some instances.”

Publishers may want to get those partnerships going sooner than later if they hope to remain relevant and solvent.  Groups like 20 Million Minds have already created a lot of alternative materials and there’s a demand for more, especially from students, said CSU’s Postma. “The term textbook is almost obsolete in this world.”

Budget: more control, little cash

California schools could gain billions or once again face the threat of a midyear budget cut under the 2012-13 budget proposal released in Sacramento yesterday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

At a hastily called news conference, held after the budget was accidentally posted days ahead of schedule on his finance department’s website, the Governor presented a plan for closing the

Gov. Brown presents 2012-13 budget in Sacramento
Gov. Brown presents 2012-13 budget in Sacramento

state’s $9.2 billion budget gap that’s contingent upon approval of his $7 billion tax initiative. And he presented the evil-twin plan in case the tax measure is defeated.

Brown said if voters support his plan to raise sales and income taxes in November “we will eliminate the budget deficit, finally, after years of kicking the can down the road.”

For K-12 schools and community colleges new tax revenues would bring an increase of $4.9 billion in 2012-13, for a total Proposition 98 funding level of $52.5 billion. That would boost per-pupil spending from $7,096 this year to $7,815 next year. But even if the tax plan wins, most of that money will be little more than a specter in classrooms. Brown’s proposal would use $2.1 billion to backfill this year’s deferral and another $2.1 billion to start paying off the $10 billion in deferrals already accrued.

What’s more, the plan still doesn’t provide for a cost of living increase of 3.1 percent, which would be added to a growing multi-billion IOU known as the maintenance factor.

Past, current and proposed per pupil funding. (source:  Governor's budget summary: 2012-13). Click to enlarge.
Past, current, and proposed per-pupil funding. (Source: Governor's budget summary: 2012-13). Click to enlarge.

Dan Troy, the Community College Vice Chancellor for Fiscal Policy, says he understands strategically why the governor wants to bring down the debt before funding new programs, but, at the same time, he says the colleges could really use the money after losing $102 million in last month’s midyear trigger cuts, raising fees by 77 percent in less than two years, and receiving no cost of living increase since 2007-08.

“Technically the $218 million does count,” said Troy, referring to the amount of money the state’s community colleges would gain under the budget plan. “We just can’t buy anything with it.”

Still, it’s better than more cuts, and that’s what will happen if voters don’t approve the governor’s tax plan, or one of the other initiatives to fund education that are currently competing for ballot space.

Two things would happen if the revenues don’t pass, said state Finance Director Ana Matosantos. First, it would trigger a $4.8 billion reduction in Prop 98 that would amount to the equivalent of three weeks of school. That doesn’t mean that the school year would be shortened by three weeks; it’s meant to illustrate how much money is at stake.

The other cut is more convoluted. It would shift or “rebench” the debt payments from the state’s K-14 general obligation bonds from the General Fund to Prop 98, giving schools and community colleges a brand new $2.4 billion expense. Ah, but it’s not all bad; Matosantos said that would preclude a suspension of Prop 98.

Consolidation consternation

Lost in much of the rollout yesterday was a sweeping change proposed to how schools are funded. The governor wants to move to a weighted-student formula, which you can read about today in John Fensterwald’s column.

Brown also wants to give local districts more decision-making power over how they spend their money, and he aims to do that by increasing flexibility for most remaining categorical programs (with the exception of federally-mandated programs, such as special education and foster care), even seemingly sacred cows like class size reduction.

“That means if they think they can save some money by adding a few kids to a class instead of something else then they can do that, that’s their choice,” said Brown. “I have confidence that the local democracy is at least as vigorous and as responsive as our statewide democracy.”

Some advocates and legislators are alarmed by the possible unintended consequences this could have on hard-won programs. Senator Joe Simitian’s (D-Palo Alto) legislation that just became law in 2010, which increases the kindergarten entrance age but provides funding for the younger children to attend transitional kindergarten, could be wiped out before it really gets going.

“The Administration’s budget proposal is a $700 million hit to K-12 education at the expense of 4-year-olds and their families,” said Simitian, referring to the three-year implementation costs for the program. “The notion that 250,000 parents and their 125,000 kids are no longer eligible to begin school in the fall is a non-starter.”

Another program that may be eliminated is Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, which provides extra study skills and support to help prepare high school students who could be the first in their family to attend college.

Higher Ed remains flat

The budget plan for the University of California and California State University is essentially status quo, which doesn’t sit well with CSU Chancellor Charles Reed. In a statement on the Cal State website, Reed said the governor’s proposed $2 billion for CSU is the lowest state support for the system in 15 years, even though Cal State enrolls 95,000 more students today than it did back then.

“We cannot continue down this budget path and expect that we can offer the same number of courses to the same number of students and maintain quality,” said Reed, adding that “we are just about out of options, and if the state does not begin to reinvest in the CSU, we will need to take more drastic measures including cutting enrollment and programs, raising tuition, and reducing personnel.”

Gov. Brown made a point of saying that he thinks higher education has been hit too hard already and he’d like to find a way of getting them more money to avoid any further tuition increases. So far, his budget plan doesn’t contain any specifics on how to do that, but it would chop another $100 million each from UC and CSU if the tax plan fails.

Gov. pulls trigger, hits education

(John Fensterwald coauthored this article.)

Midyear budget cuts hit California like a tornado on Tuesday, leaving public schools with less damage than anticipated while bearing down on state colleges and universities with full force. Gov. Jerry Brown announced that although state revenues rose, it wasn’t enough to stave off the so-called “trigger cuts” built into this year’s budget.

With revenues more than $2.2 billion below projections, Brown said the state has to cut another $1 billion in spending. Of that, about $328 million will come from K-12 education, which is significantly less than the $1.4 billion worst-case scenario.

There was no such reprieve for higher education; the University of California, California State University, and the state’s community college system will each lose an additional $100 million in the new year.

"We have to live within our means," said Gov. Brown in announcing nearly $1 billion in mid-year cuts. (source:  Governor's press conference) Click to enlarge.
"We have to live within our means," said Gov. Brown in announcing nearly $1 billion in midyear cuts. (Source: Governor's press conference) Click to enlarge.

I want to invoke a Latin phrase here,” said Brown at a press conference in the Capitol. “Nemo dat [quod] non habet; it means no man gives what he does not have. The state cannot give what it does not have.”

Several times during his comments, the governor acknowledged that he’s sensitive to the hardships the reductions will cause, but said the state has to live within its means or it will end up like Greece, Italy, and Spain, countries that overspent to excess and are now unable to climb out of the holes they dug.

Higher ed, higher fees

His argument didn’t sway critics, especially at the three college and university systems, which have already lost billions of dollars in state funding in recent years.

“The governor is the Grinch that stole Christmas,” said Foothill-De Anza Community College District Chancellor Linda Thor, only half jokingly. Although she knew the cuts were a strong probability, Thor said it still means another $2.8 million from her district ($3.3 million if you count the lack of cost-of-living increases), and that’s on top of $24.6 million in cuts over the last three years.

For the rest of the academic year Foothill-De Anza will dig into a rainy day fund established during better times, but that’s running low after several years of stormy economic weather.

What’s more, starting this summer student fees will jump from $36 a credit to $46. That’s far below the rest of the nation, but it’s still nearly $1400 a year for a full-time student, and community colleges have a high percentage of low-income students.

De Anza College awarded financial aid to more students in the current fall quarter than it did to all students in the entire 2010-11 academic year.

California State University students will also be paying more. Last month the Board of Trustees approved a 10 percent fee hike that will kick in next fall. CSU has already raised fees by 29 percent over the past year and a half.

“It is disheartening to say the least when your budget is cut by an initial $650 million, but to face an additional $100 million reduction midyear makes things extremely challenging,” said CSU Chancellor Charles Reed in a statement on the university’s website.

Cuts put brakes on school buses

Funding cuts for K-12 schools under Proposition 98 are a bit fuzzier. The governor and legislative leaders had predicted that revenues would rise $4 billion over the May revise amount.  If revenues were down by the full $4 billion, public schools would have been cut $1.4 billion, or about 3 percent.  Since revenues weren’t that low, schools will see a midyear total cut of $328 million, or about 0.7 percent. That’s an average of $55 per student.

But that’s not exactly how the governor presented it. Brown broke the reductions into two parts: First, a $79.6 million reduction in the basic school funding, called revenue limit funding. That’s the equivalent of about a half-day of school cut, instead of a potential elimination of a whole week.

The second cut is more substantial; a $248 million reduction in home-to-school transportation, in other words, school buses. Taken together, they amount to an average of $55 per student.

However, because school transportation funding primarily affects rural and low-income urban districts ­– and uses an outdated, quirky formula ­– the impact will vary widely among districts, from less than $7 per student in the 19,000-student Antioch Unified, to a whopping $638 per student in the 744-student Southern Humboldt Joint Unified.

Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest district, which will be absorbing the biggest transportation hit of $38.6 million – $59 per student – announced that it plans to file suit today to halt the cut. The district contends that the cuts would violate a 30-year-old court mandate resulting from a desegregation lawsuit that set up magnet schools and a school choice program; 35,000 students in the district now take buses. At the same time, the alternative – cutting additional services to the classroom ­– would violate the state’s constitutional duty to provide equal educational opportunities.

“LAUSD cannot withstand further budget cuts without adversely impacting the educational benefits offered to its students,” Superintendent John Deasy said in a statement. “We stand with our students to say enough is enough.”

Transportation funding has huge disparities, because it’s based on a decades-old allocation formula that punishes districts that have grown rapidly. California is last in the nation in terms of the proportion of students bused to school: 14 percent, according to Stephen Rhoads, a lobbyist with Strategic Education Services in Sacramento who has focused on the transportation issue.

In his press conference, Brown characterized the transportation cut as flexible, giving districts the ability to backfill bus service by making cuts in other areas. But it’s not as easy as that. Rob Ball, associate superintendent of Twin Rivers Unified in Sacramento County, said that the district already reduced bus routes as much as it could, with some students now walking three miles to a bus stop. Buses also transport high school students through rough neighborhoods in North Sacramento to Grant High; eliminate transportation, and fewer students would show up to school, reducing the state’s tuition reimbursements. This year, said Ball, the district will take the $1 million transportation cut out of its reserves.

Rhoads said that heavily affected districts will lobby legislators to combine the transportation and revenue limit cuts, so that the pain is spread evenly among districts. The Education Coalition, representing the PTA and teachers, administrators, and school boards associations, expressed sympathy. The transportation cut will devastate transportation services and hit poor and neediest students the hardest, it said in a statement. “It will also put at risk the safety and lives of students who will be forced to walk on unsafe roads and through dangerous conditions.”

Brown’s turn: $7 billion for schools

(Kathryn Baron co-wrote this post.)

Gov. Jerry Brown released his much-anticipated ballot initiative Monday, to temporarily raise sales and income taxes and use the money to repay K-12 schools and community colleges billions of dollars owed to them. The governor is hoping to qualify the initiative, titled The Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act of 2012, for November’s election.

The proposal calls for a half-cent sales tax increase for four years, in lieu of Brown’s failed attempt to get the Legislature to approve an extension of the one-cent sales tax increase that expired July 1. The measure also would raise income taxes on California’s wealthiest 2 percent. Together, the tax increases would raise $7 billion annually for education. But it’s not quite new funding. Two billion of that will compensate the schools for what they lost this year when the state diverted sales tax revenue to counties and cities to pay for added safety services. By approving the initiative, voters would make that tax shift to local governments permanent.

With the initiative, Brown is acknowledging that schools have been disproportionately hit with budget cuts over the past four years and, under Proposition 98, are legally entitled to a larger share of new revenue when the state economy rebounds. He’s also banking on what a series of polls over the past month have said: Voters are willing to pay more taxes – if the money is earmarked for education.

“This initiative will not solve all of our fiscal problems,” Brown wrote in a two-page letter to the public. “But it will stop further cuts to education and public safety.”

Brown’s plan will join perhaps a half-dozen other tax initiatives, some with big backers, that have either been submitted to the Attorney General for review or soon may be. One, by the California Federation of Teachers, was submitted to the State Attorney General’s office just hours after the governor’s. That proposal and another from Los Angeles civil rights attorney Molly Munger would raise income taxes exclusively on the wealthy to pay for education. ** (see correction) A third, by the Think Long Committee for California, would lower the income tax while extending the sales tax to cover services, such as accounting fees and nail salons. A fourth would tax oil production in California. The initiatives also vary on who would benefit. One would include preschool funding; others would fund the state’s public four-year colleges, UC and CSU. Brown’s initiative would fund neither, only K-12 and community colleges.

Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez, both Democrats, issued a statement together praising Brown’s initiative. “The Governor’s revenue plan is fair, focused and forward-thinking,” said Perez. “We’ve done enough damage …. It’s time to stop the bleeding and begin reinvesting in public education and local public safety. The Governor’s plan dedicates new revenue where it’s most needed,” said Steinberg.

At the same time, Mark Hedlund, Steinberg’s press secretary, and Steve Glazer, Brown’s political adviser, acknowledged that the governor will need to negotiate with sponsors of other initiatives to whittle down the choices on the ballot, ideally to one. “People need to be convinced to back the best. This (Brown’s) is a good approach to take,” said Hedlund.

Glazer was more cryptic: “The governor is talking to the other folks. We’re confident there would be good environment next November.”

Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway of Tulare, on the other had, condemned “a massive $35 billion tax increase (five years times $7 billion) on hard-working Californians and job creators,” and pledged that “Assembly Republicans will again stand united as the last line of defense for taxpayers.”

Brown blamed continued intractability by Republican lawmakers, who first refused to put the initiative on the ballot, for forcing him to take his plan directly to voters. Brown and unions that are expected to support the initiative will need to collect 807,615 voters’ signatures by April.

The governor released  the densely worded 14-page initiative and a short open letter without explanation, leaving veteran Sacramento budget watchers scratching their heads over the details.

Need for clarification

It’s not clear how much of the $7 billion would be new money, versus funds to cover past debts. It could be about half, depending on what happens next week, when the State Department of Finance announces whether to order the automatic midyear budget “trigger” cuts of up to $1.5 billion due to lower than hoped for revenue predictions. The state also owes schools about $14 billion for failing to fully fund Proposition 98 in past years; the tax increases will enable some of this to be repaid as well.

The half-cent increase will raise the state sales tax to 7.75 percent ­– still a half-cent less than Californians paid before a temporary 1 percent increase expired July 1.

The higher income tax would affect only individuals earning more than $250,000 (couples $500,000); they’d pay 1 percent more, increasing their rate to to a rate of 10.3 percent. Individuals earning between $300,000 and $500,000 (couples $600,000 and $1 million) would pay 1.5 percent more, raising their rate to 10.8 percent. Individuals earning more than $500,000 ($1 million for couples) would pay 2 percent more: 11.3 percent. The tax would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012 if the initiative passes.

If the initiative fails, however, there would be more massive cuts, including the likely suspension of Proposition 98. What’s more, cities and counties would be left holding the bag, since the $5 billion in sales tax revenue to pay for all those services the state pushed on to them would revert to the general fund, while the obligation to provide those services would remain at the local level.

** The Advancement Project initiative by Molly Munger would raise the income tax for all wage earners, although, with the progressive structure of California’s income tax, 92% of the additional tax would be paid by couples earning more than $70,000. For couples, the increases range from 4/10ths of 1% on incomes after all deductions under $35,000 to 2.2% for couples with income after all deductions over $5 million, according to the initiative website.

UC picks protest investigators

The University of California has tapped former Los Angeles police chief William Bratton to lead the investigation into the pepper spraying of UC Davis students during a nonviolent protest last week.

UC President Mark Yudof also named Christopher Edley, Jr., dean of UC Berkeley law school, to head an examination of police policies and practices at all ten university campuses.

Bratton will have 30 days to conduct an independent investigation of the UC Davis incident and report back to Yudof and an advisory committee of students, faculty, staff, and other community members. The panel will recommend changes in police protocol to UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi to ensure the safety of peaceful student protestors.

Bratton was LAPD chief from 2002 to 2009. He also led the New York City police department, and is now chairman of the New York-based Kroll consulting company.

“My intent,” said Yudof in a statement released yesterday, “is to provide the Chancellor and the entire University of California community with an independent, unvarnished report about what happened at Davis.”

A video that went viral within hours of being posted on the web last Friday shows campus police blasting pepper spray directly into the faces of student protestors seated peacefully on the quad to try to prevent the officers from tearing down their Occupy encampment.

Two officers involved in the spraying and the campus police chief have been placed on administrative leave. Katehi, who has been inundated with calls for her resignation, apologized to students during an emotional speech Monday afternoon. She acknowledged that many of them have lost faith in her.

“And I know you may not believe anything that I’m telling you today, and you don’t have to. It is my responsibility to earn your trust.”

The systemwide investigation, lead by Dean Edley and UC General Counsel Charles Robinson, will include visits to UC campuses to talk with students, faculty, staff, and experts on campus safety and police practices.

“With these actions,” Yudof said, “we are moving forward to identify what needs to be done to ensure the safety of students and others who engage in nonviolent protests on UC campuses. The right to peaceful protest on all of our campuses must be protected.”

UC president orders police review

Saying he is “appalled” by heavy-handed police tactics against student protestors at the University of California’s Berkeley and Davis campuses, UC President Mark Yudof yesterday called for an immediate review of campus policies and procedures involving the use of force by law enforcement officials on campus and off.

“I am appalled by images of University of California students being doused with pepper spray and jabbed with police batons on our campuses,” said Yudof in a sternly-worded statement released Sunday. “I intend to do everything in my power as President of this university to protect the rights of our students, faculty and staff to engage in non-violent protest.”

Videos taken last Friday, which have since gone viral, show UC Davis police using pepper spray on non-violent students who had locked arms as officers moved in to clear away their tents and other items from the Occupy demonstration on campus.

A week earlier, in a confrontation also caught on video, police at UC Berkeley are seen moving against non-violent Occupy protestors with their batons.

Although both campuses have already begun their own internal reviews, Yudof said “the incidents in recent days cry out for a system-wide response.” He said he’s reaching out to experts and stakeholders to conduct the review of police policies.

Meanwhile, UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi said this weekend that she has placed the two officers seen using pepper spray on administrative leave. On Sunday, during an interview on the campus student television station, Katehi identified one of the officers as UC Davis police Lt. John Pike.  [UPDATE: This morning, Katehi announced that UC Davis’ police chief Annette Spicuzza has also been placed on administrative leave].

Katehi acknowledged that she has received many calls for her resignation, including one from Davis’ Faculty Association, which published an open letter to the chancellor on its website accusing her of “a gross failure of leadership” for calling in the police to shut down the Occupy encampment.

However, in Sunday’s interview on Aggie TV, when student journalist Ani Ucar asked the chancellor about resigning, Katehi said while she’s “thought very carefully about the messages,” she’s committed to staying at Davis to “make this university a better place from what it is right now, a great place as a matter of fact in terms of providing a learning environment for our students.”

She said she will be meeting with students tomorrow afternoon and has convened a task force, which includes students, staff, and faculty, and has given them 30 days to investigate the incident and report back. Katehi said her main concern is the safety of students.

Yudof is focusing his investigation on protecting the constitutional rights of students. “As I have said before, free speech is part of the DNA of this university, and non-violent protest has long been central to our history. It is a value we must protect with vigilance. I implore students who wish to demonstrate to do so in a peaceful and lawful fashion. I expect campus authorities to honor that right.”

Brown’s low marks for higher ed

Californians are worried that the state’s public colleges and universities are underfunded and headed in the wrong direction, and they blame the Governor and legislature. Jerry Brown’s overall disapproval rating is 38 percent, but when higher education is singled out, 53 percent of residents say he’s not doing a good job, according to a new state survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Gov. Brown's approval rating on higher education. (Source: PPIC) Click to enlarge.
Gov. Brown's approval rating on higher education. (Source: PPIC) Click to enlarge.

But the Governor is an Oscar contender compared to the state legislature’s ratings; 70 percent of respondents gave lawmakers a thumbs down on overall job performance, and 71 percent disapprove of their handling of higher education.

“Most Californians say budget cuts have hurt public colleges and universities a lot,” said PPIC president and CEO Mark Baldassare in a written statement accompanying the poll’s release. “Their concerns about where the system is headed are reflected in the low grades they give their leaders for handling higher education.”

State legislature's higher education approval rating (Source:  PPIC) Click to enlarge.
State legislature's higher education approval rating (Source: PPIC) Click to enlarge.

PPIC has been conducting higher education surveys since 2007. For this one, they did telephone interviews, in five languages, during late October and early November, with 2,503 adults including likely voters and parents with children 18 or younger.

Other key findings

  • Affordability is a major concern. 61% say affording college is a big problem for students. 75% say students have to borrow too much money to pay for college.
  • 46% say that the purpose of college is to gain skills and knowledge for the workplace, while 35% say it’s for personal and intellectual growth.
  • 35% say the mission of community colleges should be preparing students to transfer to four-year colleges, while 29% say it is career technical or vocational education.
  • Only 23% of respondents say most students are prepared to do college-level work.
  • Three-fourths of residents say a racially diverse student body is very important (53%) or somewhat important (22%).
  • A majority of Californians believe that the three public higher education systems are doing an excellent or good job, although those numbers have fallen some since the 2007 survey.
  • A majority of Democrats and likely voters would support a ballot measure in 2012 to pay for new construction projects at state colleges and universities, while most Republicans would not.
  • 73% of Latinos – the largest of any ethnic and racial group – said a college education is necessary for a person to be successful in today’s work world. Whites, just 46%, were least likely to agree with that statement.

    College affordability (Source:  PPIC) Click to enlarge.
    College affordability (Source: PPIC) Click to enlarge.

It’s important, now leave me alone

Most people polled were well aware of the funding tsunami that’s swallowing California’s public colleges and universities, but they’re not yet ready to move to higher ground. Only 28 percent said the higher education system is headed in the right direction, and nearly two-thirds said the schools don’t get enough state funding, but few people want to pay more in taxes to boost their budgets. A little more than half – 52 percent – aren’t willing to increase taxes even to maintain the current inadequate funding levels, and 69 percent oppose any more fee hikes (like the 9 percent increase approved earlier this week by the California State University Board of Trustees, which we wrote about here).

Michele Siqueiros, Executive Director of the Campaign for College Opportunity, issued a statement about that paradox between beliefs and actions. “Without additional revenues or a shifting of current revenues to higher education, the future does not look promising in terms of producing the one million additional college graduates the state needs by 2025.”

In the absence of a willingness by Californians to pay more, Siqueiros said the state needs to make tough choices. “More than ever, we have to be more vigilant about policy reforms that prioritize the limited resources we do have to protect access and increase student success.”