Making Amends

Higher Education: Although imperfect, the governor's proposal to increase higher education funding will help guarantee funding.

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No one likes to settle, but when you're desperate, something is better than nothing. Such is the case with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed constitutional amendment to reverse the ratio between the state's spending on prisons and public universities.

If passed, the amendment would require the state to spend no less than 10 percent of its operating budget on higher education and no more than 7 percent on prisons-switching the current allocations.

Despite Schwarzenegger's oversimplification of the issues, the addition of his voice has generated more publicity-and hopefully more success-to the cause of public universities. And with aides characterizing the proposal as a response to the fall protests, we admire the fact that a public official actually seems to be listening to students.

As pundits have noted, the proposal falls short of the true systemic reform California needs in both its higher education and prison systems. We saw the turmoil resulting from cuts to public universities first-hand during the fall semester. A litany of problems affects state prisons and the criminal justice system, with overcrowding and inadequate physical and mental health care as some of the most significant.

It's unlikely that these stark obstacles will be improved if the governor's proposal to privatize much of prison operations, in order to cut spending from 10 to 7 percent, is passed. In fact, the situation might worsen. But if we weren't cutting from prisons, we'd have to turn to already bare-bones social services or other ailing programs to get funds. Given such limited options in the short term, the amendment fits the bill as much as we can reasonably expect from Sacramento.

As enrollment cuts and huge fee increases have shown, higher education requires immediate attention and this amendment could provide that much-needed funding boost.

The CSU and UC systems are perhaps the most visible victims of budget cuts from Sacramento, and could greatly benefit from the increased funding this proposal would generate. Moreover, if the state constitution mandated a specific chunk of the budget be allocated to higher education, universities might become a bigger priority for legislators.

In fact, although legislators may remain indifferent, the amendment would be a constitutional guarantee that higher education would be protected. Even in tumultuous economic times, the university's funding would not be threatened. In these ways, the proposal would certainly improve the status quo.

Though it is less than ideal public policy, the amendment would be a beneficial temporary stopgap to prevent future debilitating cuts to our universities. And at this point, we'll take anything we can get.

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