Viewpoints: New state budget should deliver for students

01/02/2013 12:00 AM

01/13/2013 8:37 AM

Last November, California avoided billions of dollars in cuts to our public schools and colleges with the passage of Proposition 30. California is now at a crossroads and with the political momentum from Proposition 30, our state has the opportunity to renew a historic commitment to an affordable and accessible higher education for all.

This election, young voters turned out to the polls in numbers as high as 2008 – spreading the word about Proposition 30 on campus, over the phones, in the press and through social networks. The youth vote allowed Gov. Jerry Brown's initiative to bounce back after slipping in the polls and was a key determinant in its victory.

By passing Proposition 30, the voters sent a clear and strong message to Sacramento that higher education should be a priority in our state's budget. Soon the governor and state Legislature will have an opportunity to deliver on the mandate of Proposition 30. In the second week of January, Brown is expected to present a 2013-14 California fiscal budget. It is vital that higher education be a strong priority in the budget proposal and that long-term solutions toward fixing the constant underfunding of our education systems are brought to the table.

The decisive role the youth vote played in the passage of Proposition 30 is an indication that students' voices are stronger now more than ever. Now is the right moment for our state government to increase funding for higher education. We have a new opportunity to overcome the structural hurdles that have undermined prior efforts to protect the affordability and quality of our higher education systems. The Democrats have won a two-thirds supermajority in the Legislature, and proposals that could allow California and its universities back on a path to financial sustainability – like a permanent tax on millionaires and reform of Proposition 13 – could gain new consideration.

As a student at San Francisco State University, I have witnessed the devastating effect that budget cuts and tuition increases have had on our higher education systems. With dwindling course offerings imposed by budget cuts, class sizes continue to increase, and it becomes harder to fulfill graduation requirements within four years.

In the past 10 years, CSU tuition has increased by 191 percent and UC tuition has increased by 145 percent. As the cost of obtaining a degree at a four-year university continues to increase, the American dream drifts slowly out of reach for many. Not only is a divestment of higher education incompatible with the principles of the American dream, balancing the budget on the backs of students and their families is simply bad economic policy.

The California Master Plan for Higher Education of 1960 clearly outlines that a well-funded and affordable higher education system is a key factor in driving the state economy. By educating the workforce of tomorrow, the nurses, teachers and engineers, that our economy needs to grow, the CSU and UC systems will drive the economy.

By offsetting billions of dollars in cuts to our public schools and colleges, Proposition 30 was a temporary solution to a long-term, structural problem within our state government. While it was a major step in the right direction and an affirmation that the public supports more funding for education, there is much more work needed to be done.

For too long, students have been limited by the politics of Sacramento; we have been forced to accept a dysfunctional state government and an unstable system of direct democracy. We have watched the Republicans in Sacramento play politics with our education through their ongoing allegiance to Grover Norquist's tax pledge and refusal to discuss reforms to Proposition 13.

But in the most recent election, the California Republican Party finally slipped out of relevancy and with that came a major opportunity to move California forward. A budget is a statement of values, and the upcoming 2013-14 fiscal budget is an opportunity for our governor and state legislature to deliver for California students.

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