California Community Colleges to Receive More Funding Under New Budget - Higher Education
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California Community Colleges to Receive More Funding Under New Budget

by Catherine Morris

Gov. Jerry Brown

Gov. Jerry Brown

Community colleges would see increased funding under the revisions to the California state budget for 2015-2016. Gov. Jerry Brown announced revisions to the original budget proposal recently.

The revisions would increase funding for certain key programs and overall have an ameliorating effect on a system that has undergone severe stress after budget cuts following the recession. Nevertheless, the California community college chancellor’s office (CCCCO) warned that, even with the proposed increase in funding, funding levels would still not match their pre-recession levels.

Since Brown announced the 2015-16 budget in January, California found that it will generate several billion more in revenue than the original budget planned for, particularly in Proposition 98 funding, which goes to the K-12 system and community colleges. Prop 98 is funded through a combination of property taxes and the state General Fund.

Despite the windfall, the financial prospects of community college districts are not entirely rosy.

“We have not completely restored access, and college operational budgets are still approximately $750 million below where we were, accounting for inflation. Further, college budgets will face additional stresses in the coming years, as PERS and STRS obligations are scheduled to increase rapidly and the state faces the sunset of Proposition 30 revenues,” Dan Troy, CCCCO vice chancellor wrote in a letter published on the CCCCO website.

Still, the budget increase would represent a turnaround from the dire straits community colleges were in previously. In the depths of the recession, community colleges were forced to cut classes and turn away hundreds of thousands of students.

Jonathan Lightman, executive director of the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges (FACCC), said that the cuts endured by community colleges were counterproductive to the state’s economic recovery.

“When you cut off the future for people, you don’t do anything to cure the unemployment; in fact, what you do is you exacerbate it,” he said in a phone interview Thursday.

Full-time community college faculty are some of the primary beneficiaries of the proposed budget revision. The budget would direct $75 million to increase full-time faculty hiring. In the 1970s, the California community college board of governors made it a goal that 75 percent of instruction should be taught by full-time faculty.

“Unfortunately that [goal] has not been funded in any meaningful way in a couple of decades. Not since the early ‘90s has there been any real, significant attention to that,” Lightman said. For the past two years, the total percentage of full-time faculty across all 112 California community colleges has been 56 percent, almost 20 points away from the original goal.

The distribution of full-time faculty is not even across all community colleges, so the budget requires that districts with lower proportions of full-time faculty be the first to hire with the new funds.

Alleviating some of the financial pressures that community colleges have been experiencing, the proposal would add a further $141.7 million in funds for general operating expenses. Altogether, the total would be $266.7 million for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

The budget revisions would also have a positive effect on the University of California system. Under the new budget, tuition will stay at its current amount for the next two years. Tuition hikes proposed in 2014 generated a great deal of controversy and protest.

Staff writer Catherine Morris can be reached at cmorris@diverseeducation.com.

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