Opponents and proponents of Proposition 92 agree on one thing: The California community colleges have been consistently shortchanged when funding has been doled out over the last 20 years.

The two-year college system is comprised of 109 colleges operated by 72 districts and serves nearly 2.5 million students annually. In fact, according to the measure’s supporters 70 percent of all Californians attending college are enrolled in a community college, and one-third of all University of California graduates and two-thirds of California State University grads started out at a community college.

According to Proposition 98, a measure passed by voters in 1998 that details how much money should be allocated to education spending per year, community colleges are supposed to receive 10.93 percent. However, the two-year higher education system has received consistently less than that each year. According to the legislative analyst statement on the ballot, the schools receive between 10 and 11 percent.

Supporters of the measure estimated that over the last 15 years, community colleges have been shortchanged about $4 billion.

While the difference may seem minuscule, according to a senior fiscal policy analyst in the Legislative Analysts Office (LAO), when billions of dollars are involved, anything less than full funding is considered a cut.

Consequently, the California Community College League co-sponsored Prop. 92, which appears on the Feb. 5 ballot. The constitutional amendment would do the following:
(1) Establish a new and separate funding minimum for community colleges, and change the formula that determines how much money the schools would receive. Currently the two-year colleges are lumped in with the K-12 schools, and the amount colleges receive is based on average daily attendance at the lower level schools.

This would change under Prop 92. Community college growth would be separated from K-12, and instead be primarily based on the young adult population (17 to 21 or 22 to 25, whichever is larger), and there would be a five-percent cap on how much enrollment could grow.
As a result of the change, it is estimated that the K-14 system would gain an average of $300 million additional dollars for the 2007-08 through 2009-10 fiscal years. Half of this money would go to the K-12 system in the first two years, and most of the new funding would go to the community colleges, in year three. K-12 would still receive funding under Proposition 98.
From fiscal year 2010-11 on, the legislative analyst does not expect the new Prop. 92 formula to be in effect because the combined mini funding levels for K-14 would most likely fall bellow 40 percent of state general fund revenues to be spent.

(2) Cut student fees from $20 to $15 per unit beginning in Fall 2008. It also changes the legislature’s authority to increase fees in subsequent years. To make a change would require a two-thirds vote of both houses. Additionally, the increase would limit any bump up to the lower of 10 percent or the percentage change in the state’s per-capita personal income (it typically averages about 4 percent).

This provision would mean the colleges would collect about $70 million less in annual student fee revenues, if the per-unit costs remained at its current amount. According to proponents, the money generated from increased fees typically do not return to the community colleges, but are instead used to balance the budget.

The reduction is a way to stabilize fees, which according to community colleges supporters have in the past swung from $10 a unit one year to $26 per unit the next.

(3) Formally recognize the California Community College System. According to a proponent for the measure, the schools are not recognized in the state constitution as a system, and legislation could be put forth that would wipe out community colleges.

(4) Increase the membership of the California Community Colleges Board of Governors (BOG) from 17 to 19, and all would have voting rights. It would require that additional BOG members be appointed from lists provided by specific community college organizations. The BOG would also have more control over its staff and budget. Additionally the student governor would now be a voting member and there would be more people on the BOG who deal with the community colleges on a daily basis.

Against. “This is the worst time in the world to try and go for this initiative . . . it’s just not a good time to ask,” contends David A. Sanchez, president of the California Teachers Association, which while acknowledging the under-funding of the community colleges, has come out against Proposition 92.

Sanchez said the specter of a potential $14 billion state budget deficit makes this the wrong time to ask for more money from the budget.

Opponents also say that there is no way to pay for the increase the measure is seeking, and doing so would be left up to the governor or legislature. They have also stated that although enrollment fees would decrease by $5 per unit, the general public never voted for any increase yet they were continually increased, citing a rise since since 2000 from $11 to $20 per unit.

Also, since Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a 10 percent cut from the state budget to include cuts in education, is this the best time to decrease the community college fees and lose $70 million?

Another major objection opponents voice concerns about is the lack of accountability written into the measure for how the additional money granted the community colleges would be spent.

“When we looked at the measure, we realized there was no accountability system written into the initiative to insure that whatever funding is received is actually spent on students, instead of on administration or other things,” Sanchez said.

“That (lack of accountability) is just a red herring,” counters Acosta, of the Yes on 92 campaign.

“The community colleges already have an accountability system.”

“. . . This is a last resort to try to make their (community college) voices heard in a substantive way,” added Acosta on why the initiative was put forth. “We see the writing on the wall; we’re never going to get the money (full funding).”

According to an editorial in The Sacramento Bee in opposition to Proposition 92, there are several additional concerns. The first is that this initiative would be another locked-in spending formula which is what is causing part of the budget crisis now. The paper also pointed to the increase in the board of governors that would create a majority of community college insiders.

The paper called this a major shift, which could only be changed by a four-fifths vote of the legislature or by another ballot initiative.
Sanchez said everyone empathizes with the community colleges but many do not think Prop. 92 is the right path to take.

“We’re going to make this our top legislative agenda to pass through legislation that ensures that community colleges get their 10.93 percent under Prop. 98,” added Sanchez, who admits that CTA has not previously attempted to push through such legislation.