Letter to Legislative “Big 5” Re: Governor’s Proposal and LAO Report

California legislators continue to wrangle over the state’s budget. The Legislative Analyst’s Office continues to try to label the current per student funding, reduced as it is over previous years, as full per student funding. CUCFA’s Vice President for External Relations, Joe Kiskis, continues to try to educate legislators that this ever diminishing number should not be considered full funding. Joe also points out that student fees are a tax on a poorly targeted small subset of the people of California. Full letter:

February 11, 2009

Senate President pro tempore Darrell Steinberg
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Senator Steinberg:

The Governor has proposed a budget for the University of California for 2009-2010. More recently, the LAO has provided a cogent analysis of the Governor’s proposal and has suggested alternative approaches. Given the very difficult State budget conditions, both of the proposals reflect a strong commitment to the University and a high priority for funding it at the healthiest level that present circumstances permit. We are gratified to see such commitment in the current very difficult situation.

We agree with the LAO’s call for greater clarity on the target enrollment and the number of funded students, but strongly disagree with the specific LAO proposal, which would further reduce per student funding. In response to the current uncertain situation, the LAO proposes to define both the target enrollment and the number of funded students for 2009-2010 to be the UC target for 2009-2010. This is approximately 12,000 students above the 2007-2008 level. However, the LAO proposes to increment the UC budget by only $11M to fund those students, i.e. about $1K per presently unfunded student. The effect of this proposal would be to further define downward the per student State contribution to student education. This would come on top of many years of declining per student support. It would constitute a new, lower base that would have negative impacts in the long term. Years of budget cuts have already seriously undermined the University of California’s capacity to deliver high quality higher education to the state’s eligible students. We oppose any further ratcheting down of state per student support for public higher education.

In our view, a healthier approach would be to set the target enrollment to the UC 2009-2010 proposal, which allows the University to honor its Master Plan obligations, and then either fund it at the 2007-2008 per student level or acknowledge that the target enrollment is not currently fully funded. Offering a University education to eligible, but unfunded, students should be only a temporary measure in this very constrained budget time. It remains our position that the long-term, high priority goal of the State and the University should be a return to the healthier per student State support of year 2000.

Another LAO proposal is to effectively return the student fee increase (net of return to aid) to the State, where it could be used to offset the Governor’s proposed cuts to student aid. We agree with the LAO’s point that greater student aid is needed as fees increase. However, in our view, the University should retain these funds and use them for additional student aid or for maintaining educational quality. We regret the very large increases in student fees in recent years, and the negative impacts that they have on higher education affordability. Increases in student fees, especially when they are used as return to aid, are taxes on a small number of students and their families that should instead be spread over a much larger base via broader State taxes. Since the State is effectively requiring the University to impose this tax, the University should retain the revenue to maintain access, affordability, and quality. The University can itself use the increased fee revenue for additional student aid, or it can allocate it to other high priorities that maintain educational quality.

We will appreciate your consideration of these points when you are determining State funding for the University of California.

Joe Kiskis
Vice President for External Relations, Council of UC Faculty Associations, and Professor of Physics, UC Davis

cc: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass
Assembly Minority Leader Michael Villines
Senate Minority Leader Dave Cogdill

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