State Education Shouldn't Hold Its Breath

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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been systematically-and successfully-implementing his vision, articulated in his 2004 "Compact on Higher Education," to privatize the University of California and the California State University by cutting state support and overseeing massive fee increases designed to shift the cost of college off taxpayers and on to students and their families.

The skyrocketing costs combined with declining quality have generated a powerful movement to reinstate public higher education.

Confronted with growing public opposition, Gov. Schwarzenegger has done what every smart politician does: He has pretended to change by decrying the fact that California now spends more on prisons than higher education and called for a constitutional amendment to reverse this situation and commit at least 10 percent of the state budget to higher education (the UC and CSU systems) and limit prison funding to 7 percent.

This is just the kind of "ballot box budgeting" that the governor used to condemn. Moreover, since the governor makes the budget, Schwarzenegger could just have proposed these allocations in the budget he produced a few days later. He didn't.

The fine print is even more cynical: The provisions would not take effect until 2014, long after he left office. The amendment could be suspended by the governor by declaring a "fiscal emergency." The amendment could be waived by a 2/3 vote of the Legislature, the same vote it takes to pass the budget.

And there is more: The amendment is tied to privatizing prisons and allowing the prison employees to be exempt from civil service. The amendment prohibits early release programs to reduce prison costs. Finally, the amendment includes an unusual "non-severability clause," which says that if any part of the amendment is found to be illegal, the whole amendment is killed.

The bottom line: This is a PR proposal to take pressure off the governor and the UC and CSU leadership to restore the promise of public higher education without changing anything.

He also proposes to eliminate new awards for the Cal Grant Competitive Program beginning in 2010, making it harder for students to afford the ever-increasing fees in the Compact.

The fact is that if Schwarzenegger wanted to reverse spending priorities for colleges and prisons, he could just put do it. On this point, he has moved a bit. His January budget proposal spares UC and CSU campuses the cuts he proposes for most of state government. At the same time, the roughly $370 million increases he proposed for each of the public university systems only restore about 1/3 of his recent cuts and he leaves high fees (and plans for further 10 percent per year increases) in place.

What would it cost to restore the promise of higher education to what it was just a decade ago? Rolling fees back to 2000-01 levels ($4924 for UC campuses, adjusted for inflation), restoring per-student state funding and providing places for every eligible student for UC, CSU and the community college systems would cost $4.6 billion.

Restoring the quality education that university used to offer through continuing privatization would require raising UC fees another $7,398 (to a total of $18,948).

In contrast, restoring state investment to a truly accountable higher education system, while rolling back tuitions to 2000-01 levels, would cost the median California taxpayer just $32 next April 15. Two-thirds of taxpayers would pay $86 or less.

As things stand now, the UC administrative and faculty leadership have endorsed the governor's phony constitutional amendment. Rather than continuing to provide him with political cover, they need to be openly advocating for $32 to restore high quality accessible taxpayer-supported public higher education.


Stanton Glantz is a UCSF professor of medicine and Vice Chair of the UC Council of Faculty Associations. Reply to [email protected]

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