Thanks to the editors at the San Jose Mercury News for printing the Op Ed I wrote with Rich Hansen, President of the Foothill-De Anza Faculty Association, in support of Proposition 92 on the Feb. 5th California state presidential primary ballot. The op ed follows:
Community college funding needs protection from legislative raids
By Hal Plotkin and Rich Hansen
Article Launched: 01/10/2008 01:35:16 AM PST
California’s community colleges operate in a perpetual state of extreme budget uncertainty. Ever since the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, the Legislature has treated community college fees as a source of general fund revenue. When money is needed to balance the state budget, the Legislature boosts student fees. This discourages attendance, damages programs and undermines the economic future of community colleges.
California’s state budget shortfalls should be financed in a more rational and less counterproductive way. In addition to making other improvements, Proposition 92, on the Feb. 5 ballot, establishes fair limits on community college student fee increases. Some claim it goes too far. But given recent history, it’s clear that without Proposition 92 the Legislature will continue to pick the pockets of California’s politically defenseless community college students.
Higher community college fees discourage attendance, which in turn lead to more budget cuts, until the entire system hits a new low in terms of access and affordability. This destructive process has been repeated countless times. Each time, community colleges are forced to cut classes and student services despite high success rates and demonstrated need. The last time, more than 300,000 students were turned away statewide.
Remarkably, Proposition 92 is opposed by the California Teachers Association. CTA leaders fear our state’s current budget deficit will grow if community colleges get what they need. Those fears are misplaced. Recent studies indicate that every dollar of public investment in our community colleges generates at least $3 in increased local economic activity. The real danger to our tax base, and to California’s economic future, is under-investment in education, particularly in locally accessible community colleges that train our future workforce.
Proposition 92 will reduce fees from $20 to $15 a unit and tie future fee hikes to the state rate of inflation. That will create the budgetary stability community colleges need to make the most efficient use of limited resources, including through sound long-term planning. The state’s community college board of governors will gain the ability to hire and fire the highest level management employees, a power that is now improperly vested in the governor. Proposition 92 will also ensure that community colleges receive their fair share of state education funds as promised by 1988’s Proposition 98, a level of funding the Legislature has delivered only once in the last 20 years. Proposition 92 will remedy that inequity without allocating any new resources, and it will stop the Legislature from using community college students as an ATM.
The dire need for Proposition 92 illustrates a point that should have been learned long ago. California cannot support an adequate infrastructure and a modern education system with a property taxation scheme that resembles 14th century feudalism. When Proposition 13 passed three decades ago, voters wanted to protect senior citizens from being taxed out of their homes. It’s a safe bet that most of them did not want to give a permanent and growing tax break to a select group of wealthy corporations just because they owned property before 1979.
California’s economy thrived in the last generation largely as a result of our fine public education system. Community colleges are a vital part of that system. A good K-12 education is essential – but not enough. Community colleges require budgetary and student fee stability in order to produce the steadily growing numbers of graduates, who earn more and pay more in taxes, that California needs to pay its bills and remain competitive in the future. Vote YES on 92.
HAL PLOTKIN is a member of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District Governing Board of Trustees and RICH HANSEN is president of the Foothill-De Anza Faculty Association.