Home California Progress Report Proposition 92: Community College Funding and Fees – NO

Proposition 92: Community College Funding and Fees – NO

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Every year, Prop 98 guarantees schools and community colleges 40% of the General Fund—about $45 billion. And every year, the Legislature engages in a tug-of-war over how to divide that funding between K-12 schools and community colleges. In recent years the solution has been a consistent 90/10, and this will probably continue for the foreseeable future. However, the Legislature holds the power to alter the proportion should the need arise.

Community college advocates aren’t satisfied with this. They claim they were promised not ten, but eleven percent of the Prop 98 funding guarantee back in 1988, and that the state is now billions of dollars “in arrears” in funding the colleges. In order to correct this, they have given us Prop 92, which will decouple the funding guarantee for community colleges and K-12 schools and restore community college funding to what it “should” be.

Here’s how it will work: The K-12 portion of Prop 98 funding will break off and sail away with its existing ratcheting mechanism, ensuring that the schools’ $41 billion will continue to swell (but never shrink) each year in response to increases in personal income and K-12 enrollment.

The remaining chunk, for community colleges, currently about $4.1 billion, would be massaged every year by a new machine. This would raise funding levels in response to increases in personal income and the population of young adults. The rates of growth of two demographics, 17-21 and 22-25, would be measured, and the higher one used as the multiplier for community college funding.

The statistically-minded among you will see instantly that this is certain to be higher than the aggregate growth rate of the whole age bracket from 17 to 25. For example, imagine that some year the 17-to-21-year-old population grows 2% but the 22-to-25-year-old population declines 2%. The overall growth rate of the community college demographic would be zero, more or less, but Prop 92’s sly scheme would ignore the 22-to-25-year-olds and grow community college funding 2% due to the younger bracket. If I recall correctly, the technical term for this type of formula is “cheating.”

But that’s not even the worst part of the algorithm. Remember that Prop 98 adjusts funding to K-12 schools based on actual enrollment. That makes sense: schools need a certain amount of funding per actual student. Prop 92, on the other hand, wants to adjust community college funding based on the population of potential enrollees—everybody in the state aged 17-25. It won’t matter if they’re actually still in high school, or attending UCLA, or deployed in Afghanistan, or (gasp) already have their Associate’s degrees. There’s a public out there to be served, whether they want service or not, and, like an empty McDonald’s with burgers on the grill, our community colleges will be ready for them should they decide to show up.

Oh yeah, and Prop 92 also increases community college funding further in any year where the state’s unemployment rate exceeds five percent. That has happened—let me check here—thirteen out of the past fifteen years, a mere 87% of the time. No biggie.

This is nonsense. Obviously K-12 enrollment should determine grade-school funding. But pegging community college funding to the growth of the pool of potential enrollees? And choosing just the tastiest half of the data? And enhancing it with a light sprinkling of unemployment dust? Give me a break.

Supporters of Prop 92 claim that the “enhanced” funding guarantee is needed to prevent colleges from increasing student fees, which will be effectively frozen under the measure. They point to a 2005 study commissioned by the Legislature that blamed a $15-per-unit fee increase for a 314,000 student drop in enrollment earlier this decade. I’m sorry, but that fee increase cannot possibly have been responsible for driving away one-eighth of the student body. Per-unit fees amount to just one-tenth of student costs; textbooks, health fees, student body fees, parking, and a plethora of other expenses are much more important. Instead, the drop resulted from slashed course offerings, the elimination of many recreational courses for non-degree seeking students (the greatest losses occurred in such areas as physical education, art and music), and those other increased student costs. Prop 92’s offer to freeze student fees is an irrelevant come-on that will accomplish virtually nothing.

At its heart, Prop 92 is an attempt to lock in funding for yet another area of government with a constitutional guarantee. We should all oppose this kind of ballot-box budgeting; it straitjackets the Legislature in its most important function. Budgeting sets the state’s true priorities, which should be allowed to adjust from year to year. By approving this measure, we would remove that flexibility, and instead say that community colleges are more important than law enforcement, health care, social programs, four-year colleges, and anything else subject to regular budget deliberations. That’s just not right.

Pete Rates the Propositions is non-partisan and unaffiliated with any candidate or organization. Pete remains obstinately undoctrinaire, considering each ballot proposition on its merits. He is proud to have offended (and persuaded) voters of all political stripes. This originally appeared on Pete Rates the Propositions and is republished with the permission of the author.

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