Davis' Budget a Mixed Blessing for Community Colleges

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Community colleges may experience all-encompassing budget cuts as a result of Gov. Gray Davis' proposed 2002-03 budget.

While the proposed budget actually calls for a minimal increase in money allotted to community colleges, cuts to specific programs such as telecommunications, technology and faculty and staff development have administrators fearing the worst.

"If the budget stays in its current form, the budget could hurt us in our CalWORKS, matriculation and staff development," said John Garmon, president of Vista Community College in Berkeley.

CalWORKS is a state-funded program that enables those who cannot afford classes on their own to go to school, Garmon said.

The budget, which will increase overall funding to the state's community colleges from $6.2 billion to $6.3 billion, also cuts funding from Funds for Student Success and Teacher/Reading Development.

Sandy Harrison, spokesperson for the state's Department of Finance, said Davis' ongoing focus has been elementary, junior high and high school education.

"Gov. Davis' priority is K-12 education and has been for the past three years," he said.

K-12 education, slated to receive a $1.1 billion funding increase this year, will be the only educational sector to receive a significant bump in state support under the proposed plan.

But some feel that only increasing K-12 education does not do enough. Kathleen Jones-West, who attended college under a financial aid program that preceded CalWORKS, said college saved her from poverty.

"The only freedom to get off the burden of welfare was to get an education," she said.

The proposed budget allocates $15 million to the CalWORKS program, a reduction of $50 million from last year's budget.

Garmon said such a proposal "cuts a lot of people's legs out from under them."

The proposed cutbacks are needed to compensate for reduced sales tax revenue. The drop in the stock market reduced capital gains and led to a sharp decline in income tax revenue, said Harrison.

Last year's total revenue from income taxes was $44.6 billion, while this year the state received only $38.4 billion.

The small increase in overall funding does not cover the dramatic rise in enrollment in the Peralta Community College District, according to Jeffrey Heyman, spokesperson for the district.

"If (Davis) goes ahead and slashes the community college budget, there will be a big negative effect here," he said.

The Peralta district had 3,469 more students enroll this year than last year, the largest increase in student enrollment in 20 years.

Garmon said the budget cuts will create "a digital divide."

"A lot of students don't have computer access at home, and so far, access at college has been limited," he said.

He said the proposed budget would also create "less instructional equipment and less money for training for the use of the instructional equipment."

Ann Bancroft, spokesperson for the California secretary of education, said the state had other priorities in making the budget.

"The state's education priorities are to make sure no students are turned away, that classes are available and not overcrowded, that teachers can be paid and the school's physical plant can be maintained," she said.

Davis' budget is currently being debated in the state legislature and is expected to be finalized June 30.


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