What Brown’s Budget Means for Students

Jerry Brown announced his 2011 budget plan for California last Tuesday, with an assertive message asking for more sacrifices from Californians. As usual, those that are expected to deal with the heaviest burden are students.

Some of the positive highlights in Brown’s plan include keeping funding for public K-12 schools stable, empowering local economies and eliminating overlapping responsibilities. Unfortunately, most of these goals are based on the assumption that Californians will vote on a ballot measure that will extend tax increases for five years, amounting to almost $9.3 billion a year. Convincing voters to support this measure will be challenging, considering the state’s 12 percent unemployment rate and the measure’s unpopular past. This ballot was previously rejected in a 2009 special election while Governor Schwarzenegger was in office.

On Tuesday, Brown warned that rejecting the ballot this time around would result in billions of dollars being cut from the budget. Brown’s intent to empower local government, which involves the transfer of $5.9 billion from state funding to the counties, is expected to come through funds appropriated from the extended taxes. The proposal argues that should all the proper measures go into effect, it will reduce “the duplication of services and administrative costs.” These responsibilities would include services like mental health and child welfare programs. Local officials are hesitant of this plan;  they are skeptical as to whether they will get the appropriate funds needed to perform these responsibilities.

The proposal of keeping the K-12 system stable will also be determined on whether the tax rate remains the same for another five years, which is not guaranteed. Should the best-case scenario occur in July, this still leaves the California K-12 public school system ranking near the nation’s bottom in per-pupil spending.

What is certain, however, is that the state will borrow about $1 billion from the Proposition 10 reserve that was meant to fund children’s programs. UC and Cal State systems will see a budget cut of $500 million each. Community colleges will also get slammed with a $400 million cut, as well as an increase in fees, raising the price of tuition from $26 to $36 per unit.
What makes these plans even more depressing is that these reductions are a best-case scenario; cuts could be even more drastic if the tax measure is rejected. Brown has not officially provided any alternative proposals if the measure is rejected. He claims that his proposal differs from past proposals, as others were “short-term measures and gimmicks” which only worsened California’s budget gap.

The governor is driven by pragmatism and seems to be determined to fix California’s economic problems, but it should never be at the expense of California’s future generations. Today’s youth will be responsible for paying the debt of the last generation, and denying them a proper education is a sure-fire way of keeping them in the same situation as their parents.

Brown is raising tuition and cutting financial aid, which will affect those who come from backgrounds that already have a tough time completing school. In 2009, the Los Angeles Times reported that only 14,000 of the 2.7 million students enrolled in California community colleges transferred to UCs.

California community colleges have traditionally been the most affordable in the country, with the lowest cost per unit. Community colleges have been a great alternative for lower and middle-income students who strive toward a higher education. These proposed actions would only make it more difficult for students to get accepted into UCs and CSUs, let alone graduate.

Last year’s census report showed that the gap between the rich and the poor is wider than ever. It has also been reported that about 60 percent of new jobs last year were in low-paying industries.

These new hurdles and burdens that Brown is creating for those who want to receive an education are not going to improve their chances of getting a job outside of the low-paying industries. Making higher education more expensive will forever damage California’s future generations of students.

Brown is right in that the government needs a realignment, which should include reducing redundancies in order to make government more efficient. Placing much of the burden on the young and the less fortunate, however, is not the proper way to handle the budget gap if California wants to have any hope of being a nationally and internationally competitive economy.

Sophia Solis is a fourth-year political science major. She can be reached at sophias@uci.edu