It’s no exaggeration to say that if the Brown tax measure placed in the November election ballot fails, higher education, specifically at the community college level in California might be doomed.
What will it mean in program reductions and cutbacks if the proposed measure fails to local schools like Mt. SAC and Citrus Community College along with the 112 other institutions statewide?
Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget plan outlines $8 billion in cuts and double that amount to close a $16 billion deficit according to state officials.
Brown’s budget package seeks a temporary increase in personal income tax on the state's wealthiest taxpayers, and also aims to increase the state’s sales tax by one-quarter percent for four years.
In a recent webinar intended to educate and elicit feedback from school administrators and districts about Brown’s May budget revise, California Community College Chancellor Jack Scott, Community College League of California CEO/President Scott Lay and other officials outlined the grim future districts could face in the wake of the $502 million cut that the California Community Colleges system took in the 2011-12 academic year.
If Gov. Brown’s November tax initiative passes, the community college system will receive $313 million in new money. But if the tax plan fails at the polls, the California Community Colleges will take approximately $300 million in additional mid-year trigger cuts. This is on top of an unexpected revenue shortfall of $100 million because property tax and student fees are lower than original estimates, which has been dubbed as the “February Surprise.”
Scott and Lay added that prosperity in the upcoming fiscal year is contingent on three main sources of revenue: tax revenues resulting from Brown’s tax measure on the November ballot, funds from local cities as a result of the state dissolving redevelopment agencies and revenue from Facebook shares going public, though Brown’s tax measures will prove to be the most significant, representing a $613 million swing from worst to best case scenario.
Scott said passage of the tax measures would not get the community college system back to the days of 2007-08, but it would move districts in the right direction.
“It’s going to take an immense effort to convince the public to pass the tax measures, but we have very few options,” said Scott. This assessment is based on the results of polls which show voters are in favor of more money for schools, as long as they don’t have to foot the bill themselves.
Then there’s the Molly Monger initiative, a rival tax measure on the November ballot which has the power to significantly hurt community colleges if passed by voters. As explained by Lay, the Monger initiative is beneficial primarily to early childhood education, while Brown’s initiative would help the community colleges, there’s a strong choice that faced with both, voters may choose to back neither.
Scott urged districts proceed with caution, he said it would behoove districts not to bank on the tax initiative passing. Late last month, the California Teachers Association, one of the largest education unions in California, officially announced its backing of Brown’s plan.
There is no doubt that the California Community College system will have a massive campaign in the months to come to sway voters in support of Brown’s tax plan as well.
According to a recent report, 80 percent of firefighters, law enforcement officers and EMTs are credentialed at community colleges. 70 percent of the nurses in the state are also educated in community colleges. Moreover, transfer students from community colleges to the University of California account for a staggering 48 percent of UC’s bachelor degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Despite the state’s financial woes, California clearly cannot afford to continue eroding the system if it hopes to continue to be competitive and fiscally healthy in the near future.