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PROPOSITION 92: CON INITIATIVE GETS A FAILING GRADE.

Byline: Mary Gill

CALIFORNIA'S community colleges are critical to our state's economy and future. They do awesome work with limited resources. Why then should people vote "no" on Proposition 92, which supposedly helps these colleges and students?

There are so many reasons.

Proposition 92 is fiscally irresponsible. It requires the state to spend $300 million per year for the next three years without identifying a way to pay for it. The governor and the Legislature will have no choice but to raise taxes or cut other areas of the budget -- such as the University of California, the California State University, firefighters, transportation or health care. It makes the state's current fiscal crisis worse.

Proposition 92 is silent on the use of the new money. No goal statement, outcome measures, reports to the people, or audits. And the state board that guides the system is restructured to severely limit public oversight. If supporters ask taxpayers for nearly $1 billion over three years, don't they at least owe the public some accountability and a continued role in policy?

Even if the state were flush with money, Proposition 92 is still not a good plan. The new funding formula is flawed. It's based on population growth, not attendance. Taxpayers could have to pay the colleges for students who do not attend. That makes no sense.

Proposition 92 reduces community-college fees (already the lowest in the nation by far) from $20 to $15 per unit. The supporters have the audacity to claim this $5 change will provide "a chance for every Californian to go to college." Well, hardly.

I have worked in student financial aid and higher education for 35 years, and it is this notion I find the most troubling -- it is a cartoon of affordability. Lower-income students already do not pay, so Proposition 92 does not help needy students. Higher-income students will get a small break in fees, but not enough to buy the average new textbook. Proposition 92 does nothing to help with the real cost barriers -- like transportation to class or textbooks.

Beyond doing nothing for needy students, the fee reduction (and the supporters' exaggerated claims) may damage access to higher education. The supporters perpetuate the false notion that access is achieved if fees are lowered, thus undercutting efforts to find better financial aid for textbooks and other costs. California leaves millions of federal dollars on the table with a low student-application rate. Proposition 92 does nothing to improve this. Ironically, Proposition 92 could result in higher tuition for UC, CSU and community-college transfer students.

If the community colleges are desperate for funds, then why propose a permanent fee cut that costs $70 million a year? Is it because the fee decrease is needed to get students back into college? No. This year's community-college enrollment is surging at historic rates -- without a fee decrease. Could it be the supporters want student support and know the power of fee rhetoric?

Instead of this discouraging rhetoric, what the state and its students really need is a loud and clear message that anyone having trouble paying the fees should go get an application for financial aid. (Right now. For this year and next year.) Students should be proud to ask their financial-aid office -- and their government -- for help.

There are many more provisions in this lengthy and complex initiative; very few of them are good public policy. And all of this will be set in legal cement -- fees cannot be increased for years to come and changes to the laws will take a 4/5 vote of the Legislature.

Proposition 92 presents taxpayers with nearly $1 billion in new spending with no way to pay for it. It jeopardizes other programs. It's driven by a flawed formula. And it's being sold with false rhetoric about helping students while completely lacking in vision and accountability.

California needs a wise investment plan for higher education, but Proposition 92 is not such a plan.
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Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 3, 2008
Words:658
Previous Article:PROPOSITION 92: PRO PROTECT COMMUNITY COLLEGES.
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