Higher Education Issues 2012: California’s Proposition 30

Sather Gate at UC Berkeley: If Prop. 30 fails, it may not be long before students take to protests again.

With the 2012 election just around the corner, a number of key issues around the United States are front-and-center in the higher education universe. Not all of the major higher education issues will be directly affected or determined by votes on November 6th, but if you’ve been following higher education news at all (or have been reading here), you’ll no doubt be at least somewhat familiar with the current U.S. Supreme Court case examining affirmative action in state universities, Fisher vs. University of Texas. Since Victoria has so eloquently covered it here, here, and here, I’ll cover a few other higher education-related headlines you may or may not know about already in this short series on higher education. So, without further ado, your higher ed issue du jour:

Proposition 30 in California

California Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed several ways to chip away at the more than $25 billion deficit he inherited after taking office in 2011, but drastic spending cuts only gets one so far without gutting the entire system. As such, Gov. Brown has proposed raising over $6 billion annually from 2012-13 through 2016-17 and continuing through 2018-19 with smaller amounts raised per year. Most of the money would come from raising taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year by roughly 1-3% and by increasing the state sales tax by 0.25% annually for four years.

The Numbers

89% of the funding raised through Proposition 30 must be directed toward K-12 funding, and the remaining 11% will go toward community colleges. However, as the LA Times explained, these figures would sufficiently meet requirements enacted in 1988 by Proposition 98, which requires that approximately 50% of the state general fund must be spent on public education. This would infuse the state general fund with $3 billion for such state priorities like higher education and curb the skyrocketing tuition increases students have faced.

Why is Proposition 30 significant?

1) Draconian budget cuts over the past few years have left state funding of California’s higher education system in tatters. In fact, it is now more expensive for a student from California to attend a state school than Harvard or Yale (granted, it may still be extremely difficult to gain admissions to Harvard or Yale, but the mere fact that attending a public university in your own state could be more expensive than an Ivy League university is simply bewildering – and we’re not talking just UC Berkeley or UCLA). With $3 billion from Proposition 30 set aside for non-public education (as in most other states, public education in California does not include higher education), California can and should use that funding to invest more in its public higher education system. If Proposition 30 fails, public universities would see a $500 million reduction in state funding for the 2012-13 year alone (CSU has already approved a 5% tuition increase for next year if Proposition 30 fails). This would trigger tuition increases for the CSU and UC systems across the board, so whether you’re an in-state or out-of-state student, you might be looking at even more sticker shock for spring semester (as if the prospect of likely tuition increases next school year weren’t bad enough already!).

2) Proposition 30 faces competition on the Nov. 6th ballot. Led by Molly Munger, a lawyer and wealthy schools advocate, Proposition 38 is also a plan to fund California’s schools. However, instead of a temporary round of tax increases, it would lock in a sliding scale of tax increases for the next twelve years, regardless of how California’s economy performs during that time. Proposition 38 also focuses exclusively on K-12 education while giving no attention to higher education. Moreover, the challenge of having a competing tax-increasing proposition on the ballot is that voters aren’t too keen on tax increases to begin with, so seeing more tax initiatives on the ballot might push the average voter to simply vote no for all tax increases. Finally, only one of the two propositions can be enacted even if both pass – whichever proposition has the most votes over 50% will be the one enacted. Thus, between Proposition 30 and Proposition 38, Proposition 30 seems the more appropriate proposal at this time. If neither passes, there will be devastating effects for education in California, period.

What’s Next?

On November 6th, we’ll know if voters in California are willing to tighten their belts just a little bit more (easier said than done, I know) to invest in their younger population. If Proposition 30 passes, more students will be able to access, afford, and stay in college (e.g. Cal State would back track on the 9% tuition increase they implemented this year through refunding tuition, granting tuition credits, and/or recalculating financial aid). If Proposition 30 fails though, California will be balancing its budget even more on the backs of its own students. The costs of attending public higher education in California will increase at an even greater rate than anticipated and could close off access to higher education for many low-income and middle-income students. So, even if you don’t reside in California, the implications of the Proposition 30 vote on how other states may try to tackle budget balancing without destroying public higher education make this an issue worth tracking.

Do Your Own Research

Next Time: Changes to the University of North Carolina’s financial aid system and projected impacts on students

Samson Lim is the chief scholarship junkie of Seattle-based Scholarship Junkies, a scholarship resource organization that works to help students make higher education more affordable. Among his various scholarship experiences, Sam spent a year conducting ethnographic research on access to higher education in Berlin, Germany, as a 2010-11 U.S. Fulbright Student Scholar. Currently, Sam can be found buried in reading for his Masters of Education program in Politics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University and often tries to highlight higher ed and financial aid issues in 140 characters or less at @samsonxlim.