At a press conference held Thursday on the Sacramento City College campus, Assemblymember Julia Brownley (D-41), chair of the Assembly Education Committee, called governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed cuts and eventual elimination of the Cal Grant student college financial aid program a “Draconian slash and burn” approach to a program essential to California’s future economic health.
“I wish I could come before you today with better news about our state budget but the truth of the matter is our fiscal situation is dire and cuts are required in all areas of state government,” said Brownley. “As the chair of the Assembly Education Committee, nothing pains me more than the cuts we will be forced to impose on K-12 education, community colleges, California State Universities and the University of California system. While there will be cuts, I think the legislature needs to make sure that any budget passed does not altogether eliminate one of the jewels of our educational system, and that is our Cal Grants program.”
According to Brownley there are two profoundly simple reasons Californians should support the Cal Grants program: First, it “keeps the historic promise of the state to its citizens” that higher education should be available to all and, second, that California’s technology-centric economy “will require an educated workforce” that at least one current study shows the golden state will lack in the near future.
“As many of you know, the Cal Grants program has helped so many of the best and the brightest of California’s high school students,” explained Brownley. “Cal Grants ensures that higher education is not only for the wealthy, while assuring students that if you have the ability, you can go to college.”
“Solving this crisis will mean painful cuts all around, but I am pleased to report that yesterday the budget conference committee released details of a proposed fiscal plan that preserves the Cal Grant program,” said Brownley. “When signed by the governor, this will fill the budget gap without many of the draconian slash and burn cuts proposed in some of the governor’s plan.”
The governor’s May 14th budget revision called for an $87.5 million dollar decrease in funding to the CalGrant program by eliminating new awards for the competitive Cal Grant program, saving $52.9 million, freezing income eligibility, saving $7 million, reducing maximum awards for students attending private schools from $9.708 dollars to $8,322 dollars, saving $11 million, and partial decoupling of award levels from UC and CSU fee increases to save $16.6 million. However, the governor’s May 26th budget revision calls for the wholesale elimination of the CalGrants program by phasing it out through the elimination of new grants, saving $173 million for the 2009-2010 budget and $450 million for the 2010-2011 budget, according to a spokesperson with the Department of Finance.
Despina Costopolous, statewide coordinator for California Cash for College, said Cal Grants students have an education persistence rate, calculated through program re-enrollment, exceeding 96 percent, indicating that the students Cal Grant helps go on to finish school and receive their degrees. Costopolous believes the elimination of the Cal Grant program would “dismantle an efficient financial aid system” with evolved cooperation between the state, community colleges, state and private universities.
“The Cal Grants B award allows students to get some of their required courses out of the way first,” Costopolous said, pointing out that the average student receiving a Cal Grant B award of $1,551 to attend community college, comes from a family of four with a combined household income less than $20,000 dollars. The Cal Grant B student GPA average is 2.95.
“You are insuring that California will have an economy in which you will want to live,” said Costopolous.
Brownley believes the program is intricately linked to California’s technology-driven economy. Citing a new Public Policy Institute of California study, “Educating California: Choices for the Future,”
Brownley claimed the governor’s proposal would “cripple our long term work force” needs. “California’s economy will require 41 percent of the state’s workforce to have at least a bachelor’s degree,” but the PPIC study shows that should the state forego subsidizing the education of its populace, it will have less than 35 percent of its citizens able to meet private industry’s demand.
“It’s not only a moral question, it’s the right thing to do,” said Brownley. “It’s also an economic question, because if we don’t produce the college graduates our economy needs we’re going to have to say, okay we’re not going to produce the educated workforce so we’re going to have to import from China and India and other places the workforce our industry needs.
“So, that begs the question,” asked Brownley, “which one would you prefer? Would you prefer to grow our own or would you prefer to import the workforce and I think the answer to that is clear, we’d prefer to grow our own.”
“We are supportive of what the legislature has proposed,” said Diana Fuentes-Michel, executive director of the California Student Aid Commission. “Without the Cal Grant program there are going to be many students who will not be able to afford to go to college.“
In fact, of the 88,000 students awarded new scholarships, 36,080 come from households with income less than $20,000, and Cal Grants recipients who are the first generation to attend college has increased by 49 percent.
“The cuts on the table currently, are pretty deep in almost every area of the budget … we are seeing pretty deep cuts everywhere that you look,” said Brownley. “But to cut and eliminate the Cal Grant program which is a relatively small percentage of the budget, roughly $340 million dollars … these are kids who have gone through the system and are ready to continue their education but don’t quite have the financial means on their own. It’s a program we know works and in the end, from a fiscal perspective, it’s not a large amount of money,” said Brownley, pointing out that K-12 education costs the state roughly $55-58 billion dollars.
Four Cal Grant recipients joined Brownley at the press conference. Laura Gonzalez (pictured), a government major and Sophomore at CSU Sacramento, Sokline Hing, a first generation American citizen who will attend UCLA in September to major in Southeast Asian History, Rena Ieng who will attend the University of the Pacific in September after attending San Juaquin Delta Community College utilizing two Cal Grants of $1,551 dollars and Joaquin Sasteneda, a recent graduate of Sacramento State. “What was key for me about Cal Grant was that it offered me additional time to take internships, do the McNair scholarship program, do the Sacramento scholarship program and do an internship at the Capitol. None of that would have happened without the Cal Grant because without it I would basically have had to have been working full time.”