Voters Squash Community College Funding Measure

    Californians voted en masse to oppose Proposition 92 on Feb.
    6, a controversial initiative that would have benefited the state’s community
    colleges by increasing funding and lowering fees in an attempt to make them
    more accessible.

    If passed, Proposition 92 would have implemented a number of
    changes to California’s community
    colleges: gaining independence from state politics, lowering unit fees by $5
    and limiting future increases to no more than the cost of living.

    The item’s proponents estimated an increase of $300 million
    in funding and maintained this could be done without greatly affecting other
    educational funding or raising taxes.

    The initiative, however, was greatly opposed by
    organizations such as the California Taxpayer’s Association, California
    Teachers Association and the University of California, which believed the
    proposition would “lock up” the state’s general fund and lead to an increase in
    fees or reduction in funding for other government services at a time when the
    state is already facing a major fiscal deficit.

    Proposition 92 was ultimately defeated after receiving only
    37 percent of the vote, which its supporters attributed to bad timing.

    “Obviously, we’re disappointed,” said Jennifer Wonnacott,
    official spokeswoman for the group Yes on Proposition 92.

    However, Wonnacott said she finds some consolation in the
    knowledge that the issue forced community college issues to the state’s
    political forefront.

    “The whole campaign has made one thing clear,” she said.
    “The story has now been told about the mistreatment and underfunding of
    community colleges.”

    Dian Hasson, director of higher education for the California
    Teachers Association and teacher at Butte
    Community College
    , agreed that
    timing was a factor in the result.

    Though she opposed the measure, Hasson said the state’s
    projected $14.5-billion budget deficit made the item’s timing not “optimal.”

    In the announcement last month of his proposed budget for
    the 2009 fiscal year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger outlined his plan for drastic
    budget cuts to nearly all state-funded departments and programs in an attempt
    to combat the declared fiscal emergency.

    These cuts include funding reductions for all public
    education institutions within the state, encompassing community colleges, the
    UC system and the CSU system. The budget suggests a total reduction of $291.7
    million for community college general apportionment funds.

    Hasson said supporters of the proposition may not have
    realized the opposition it would face during such a financially unstable time.

    Nonetheless, Hasson said she is optimistic about the future
    of higher education in California,
    calling it “a real economic engine for the state.”

    “All higher education needs better funding,” she said. “This
    is my main criticism of Prop. 92.”

    The UC Board of Regents, who openly challenged Proposition
    92, expressed similar concerns. UC Office of the President spokesman Ricardo
    Vazquez said that increased teamwork is necessary to improve the situation.

    “It is important for all higher education to work together
    and present one voice to Sacramento,”
    he said.

    Supporters of Proposition 92 said they remain hopeful
    despite the vote’s outcome.

    Wonnacott reassured her supporters and students who will be
    affected by the decision, saying that that its proponents will continue to
    fight for “accessibility and affordability” in the state’s higher education.

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