Courtesy of Christian Science Monitor
Gov. Brown’s revised budget, which seeks to address the state’s $16 billion deficit, will temporarily withhold $38 million from the state’s initial $90 million commitment to the UC while boosting K-12 funding by 16 percent. Public education was largely exempt from the numerous cuts enacted in nearly every other government sector, which included a five percent state employee payroll freeze and nearly $550 million in trial court system cuts.

“Governor Brown’s revised budget proposal makes it clear that he considers public higher education a priority for the state, and we appreciate that,” stated Steve Montiel, the UC Office of the President (UCOP) media relations director, in a press release. Governor Brown, however, has noted that the funding of public education depends on voter approval of Brown’s tax measures in the November ballot; if the tax measures fail to pass, the UC and California State University System would each be subject to $250 million trigger cuts beginning on Jan. 1, 2013.

“We can’t balance the budget with cuts alone; that would just further undermine our public schools,” stated Governor Brown in a press release. “The budget I am proposing will boost funding for education, protect public safety and prevent an even deeper round of trigger cuts.” The boost referred to the additional funding of K-12 education, whereas the California State University did not undergo any substantial financial changes and the UC was granted $52 million. Some of the most controversial aspects of the revised budget related to education pertain to the California Student Aid Commission.

The revised budget has reformed the Cal Grant program in terms of participation among colleges and the requirements for students. One such change is to subject the Cal Grant program to the Federal Pell Grant methodology. The Cal Grant’s “all or nothing” methodology, which currently covers the full cost of tuition, would be amended to now distribute varying amounts. “This would ensure that the neediest applicants—who constitute some 63 percent of Cal Grant recipients—continue to receive the maximum award. Students with higher family incomes will receive reduced assistance,” stated a press release by the governor. The proposal, which would not impact current Cal Grant recipients, received criticism by the UC Regents during their meeting on May 16; the regents noted that the decision would harm California’s middle class and put even more pressure on students to resort to loans.

The second change would restrict Cal Grant participation to colleges and universities that meet criteria regarding student default rates and graduation rates. The former was decreased from an acceptable level of 30 percent to 15 percent, while the latter requires that schools maintain a 30 percent minimum graduate rate. This change was also discussed at the UC regents meeting when officials assured the public that the new debt default and graduation requirements would not impact the University of California. Schools who fail to meet either criteria would be barred from participating in the Cal Grant program for one academic year. The Cal Grant restrictions were enacted in order to reflect a decrease of $38.4 million in funding.

The budget’s impact on the 426,400 student of the California State University system and Community College system were less certain. The section pertaining to the CSU system only reviewed changes on how the university would conduct negotiations regarding employees’ health insurance. However, a portion of the budget related to the California Student Aid Commission revealed that the award amount for Cal Grants would account for the CSU’s 9.1 percent tuition increases for 2012-2013. Meanwhile, changes to the Community College system focused on shifts in block grant funding; the revised budget indicated that the amount of block grant funding for Community College students would be $28 dollars per student.

The common characteristic shared by the UC, CSU, Community College and K-12 system was the hefty cuts that would ensue if voters reject higher taxes in the November ballot. The UC and CSU would experience a $500 million trigger cut that would be evenly split between the two institutions. K-12 and community colleges would be subject to a $5.5 billion cut, although the distribution of the cuts had not been determined.

“I don’t like making additional cuts, and I recognize the impact they have on Californians. They are difficult—but necessary—in order to get us back on firm fiscal footing until California fully recovers from the global economic recession,” stated Governor Brown, who was subject to fierce criticism after it was revealed that he underestimated the state’s deficit by approximately $7 billion. The largest cuts in the revised budget were directed at state welfare, trial courts and health care for low income residents, with cuts of $880 million, $544 million and $1.2 billion, respectively.