Gov. Brown’s budget alters requirements for Cal Grants

Carl Robinette

Courtesy of Governor's Budget Summary. Illustration by Gabriel Ivan Orendain-Necochea

Governor Brown’s 2012-2013 state budget proposal, issued earlier this month, requires higher grade point averages (GPA) for Cal Grant recipients, but there will be no change to this year’s $2 billion in support to the California State University, with the provision that voters pass his tax initiative in November.

If the initiative, which would raise income tax for Californians who earn more than $250,000 annually and increase sales tax by half a cent, is turned down, the CSU will suffer an additional $200 million in trigger cuts in 2013.  This is on top of the $650 million decrease in state funds from the 2011-2012 budget and a $100 million in trigger cuts in December, during CSUN’s winter break.

“The stark truth is that without some new taxes, damaging cuts to schools, universities, public safety and our courts will only increase,” Brown said in his official statement to the Senate and the Assembly of the California legislature. “That is why I will ask the voters to approve a temporary tax increase on the wealthy, a modest and temporary increase in the sales tax and to guarantee that the new revenues be spent only on education.”


New revenue


The administration estimates that the proposed tax increases will generate $6.9 billion in revenue over the coming year.  The budget stipulates that should Brown’s tax plan be voted down, state support of the CSU would be reduced to a total of $1.8 billion.  This is the lowest it has been seen since 1996-1997 when there were 95,000 fewer students enrolled in the system, according to an article released by CSU public affairs.

“Our campuses have done everything they can just to get through this fiscal year with a $750 million budget cut,” said CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed in a recent statement.  “We have only survived by implementing numerous cost cutting measures, being extremely prudent with resources, and spending down one-time reserves.  However, we are just about out of options, and if the state does not begin to reinvest in the CSU, we will need to take more drastic measures including cutting enrollment and programs, raising tuition and reducing personnel.”

The CSU has not yet drafted a response plan, as decisions will be subject to budget approval and ballot results in November. Carmen Ramos Chandler, CSUN’s director of news and information, directed questions to the CSU chancellor’s office, saying that there are still too many contingencies for CSUN to comment.

“I would probably vote for tax increases even though I don’t necessarily support it, if it improves campus life,” said Darius Popenhagen 22, senior English major at CSUN.  “There’s definitely a shortage of classes.  A lot of times you end up taking a class that you didn’t necessarily want.  You just have to take whatever is open.”


Cal Grant changes


Brown’s budget also includes an increase in the minimum GPA requirement for Cal Grant Recipients. Cal Grant “A,” which provides recipients with up to $5,472 at CSU’s, GPA requirements will go from 3.0 to 3.25.  Cal Grant “B,” which provides up to $1,551 towards books, tuition and other expenses, requirements will go from 2.0 to 2.75. Community college transfers will move from a 2.4 to a 2.75 GPA requirement.

“In order for a majority of CSU students to graduate, they need help from some form of financial aid,” said CSU spokesperson Elizabeth Chapin.  “As college grads, these students will produce a high return on investment—for themselves and their families.  This will essentially benefit our current job market. California’s economic success depends on an educated workforce.”

Brown’s plan is expected to decrease state funding to Cal Grants by $131 million dollars, according to Brown’s proposal. This will affect about 26,000 students if approved.


Contingency plans


The University of California faces a possible $200 million reduction contingent upon November ballot results.  Also dependent upon the passage of Brown’s tax plan is a proposed $218.3 million for the California Community Colleges (CCC)  to partially restore funding that was deferred in recent years.  Paying off this deferral would represent a significant reduction to the state’s debt burden, making it a priority, according to the budget summary of its higher education plan.

The budget currently provides K-12 with a $4.9 billion increase as part of Proposition 98 funding.  If the tax increases are voted down this increase will be void and K-12 will take an additional cut of $4.8 billion in state funding.  This amounts to a cost equivalent of more than three weeks of instruction, according to Brown’s budget, and would leave K-12 with a total of $51.8 billion.

“Students need to take part in the democratic process,” said Greg Washington, president of the California State Students Association (CSSA).

This process includes voting as well as contacting state representatives, he said.  The CSSA plans to join the University of California Student Association and the Student Senate for California Community Colleges on March 5 in a statewide rally advocating for investment in public higher education.

“We are on the ground level.  We have the ability to tell legislators how these cuts affect people in the real world,” Washington said.

The budget is being reviewed for approval by the state legislature in the long process of public hearings.  The budget requires two-thirds vote from the state Assembly and Senate. Voters will decide on the tax initiative Nov. 6.