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California public colleges and universities will receive a massive funding boost to expand affordable student housing, repair aging facilities, better train students for state workforce needs and shift Humboldt State to a technology focus under the budget proposal unveiled Friday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The state's unexpected $75-billion surplus allowed Newsom to restore steep cuts imposed last year as the COVID-19 pandemic battered the economy and to invest a record-setting $48.7 billion in the University of California, California State University, California Community Colleges and the California Student Aid Commission. That amounts to a 5% increase in base ongoing general funds for UC and Cal State, Newsom said.
This higher education funding comes on top of Newsom's proposed $93.7 billion for the kindergarten-through-12th grade public education system. That historic investment includes funds to guarantee schooling for all 4-year-olds, a program to be phased in over three years beginning in fall 2022.
"This is just simply without precedent," Newsom said at a news conference Friday.
For K-12 schools, Newsom is primarily making use of dollars that he already is required to spend on education, based on formulas embedded in the state's Constitution. He could have forwarded the funds to local school systems, giving them more spending discretion. Instead, he wants to leave an imprint by directing the use of this money.
Newsom also is putting his mark on higher education, funding programs to achieve what he calls his top priorities of "affordability, access and efficiency."
Moving beyond tuition and fees to help students cover a broader array of college costs, Newsom is proposing $4 billion in one-time funds over the next two years to award grants to UC, Cal State and community colleges to build affordable student housing or acquire commercial properties to do so, with priority access given to low-income and underrepresented students.
He also is proposing $115 million in one-time funding for community colleges to eliminate textbook costs by developing free and open educational resources and certificate and degree programs that don't incur those expenses.
He blasted the textbook industry as a "racket" that profits "on the backs of our children" in his remarks Friday.
The governor also advanced his priority to help students develop job skills needed in California. A new $1-billion investment of one-time funds over the next two years will create a program to help campuses identify employers willing to offer career opportunities to students related to their fields of study. Funds would be distributed to campuses based on their share of low-income students, with priority on placing underrepresented students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
Newsom said the proposed funding was conditioned on no tuition increase for fall 2021, significant progress in closing achievement gaps, more online learning and greater alignment with state workforce needs. UC regents are weighing a limited tuition increase for the incoming class beginning in fall 2022.
The governor also reiterated his directive that UC and Cal State create a program enabling first-time freshman applicants to be considered for guaranteed admission to the UC or Cal State campus of their choice after completing required community college work.
UC, Cal State and community college leaders, whose campuses collectively educate nearly 3 million students in the nation's largest and most diverse higher education systems, hailed Newsom's proposals.
UC President Michael V. Drake and Board of Regents Chair John A. Pérez expressed gratitude for what they called the largest state investment in UC's 153-year history, totaling more than $807 million. Newsom restored a $302.4-million budget cut imposed last year and added $506 million in ongoing funding for core campus operations, student needs, and the training of diverse medical professionals to expand access to healthcare in underserved and geographically isolated communities.
UC also will get $325 million in one-time state and federal funds to repair aging facilities and improve energy efficiency. Other one-time grants will help renovate the UCLA Labor Center building, support research by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center to prevent anti-Asian hate incidents, enhance dyslexia research at UC San Francisco, develop alternative meats research at UC Berkeley, and help UC Davis work with animal shelters to prevent the euthanasia of dogs and cats that could be adopted or treated.
"The allocation recognizes the University’s role as a key driver of California’s economic future," the UC leaders said in a joint statement.
The proposal "contains many visionary strategies," said Cal State University Chancellor Joseph I. Castro. "Investing in the CSU — the nation’s largest and most diverse public university — continues to be one of the wisest and most consequential decisions our state’s leaders can make with an eight-fold return on every dollar that California invests in the university."
He particularly lauded the proposal to provide $433 million to shift Humboldt State University into the Cal State system's third polytechnic campus, joining Pomona and San Luis Obispo, to train more students in the state's underserved northern reaches for fast-growing science, technology, engineering and math fields. Castro also praised the proposed $25 million to create an “Equity Innovation Hub” at Cal State Northridge to inspire underrepresented students to pursue STEM careers.
Overall, Cal State would receive an increase of $514.9 million in ongoing funding for 2021-22, which includes restoring a $299-million budget cut last year and adding money for mental health, basic needs and other programs. Cal State also would get a one-time allocation of $325 million, which includes $150 million in federal funds, for critical infrastructure, maintenance and renovation projects, under Newsom's proposal.
For California Community Colleges, Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley praised proposed new investments in direct grants, support services, workforce training, diversity programs and college affordability.
“The Governor’s revised budget plan leverages an historic level of revenue to create lasting opportunities for community college students and will power the economic recovery that makes our state stronger and more equitable," Oakley said.
Newsom's funding proposals to help lower the cost of college drew praise from both students and equity advocates.
Aidan Arasasingham, UC Student Assn. president, said students were especially excited by Newsom's proposals to fund more affordable housing and permanently continue state financial aid for summer school classes, which was extended two years ago.
"By directly addressing high costs of education while bolstering financial aid and basic needs support, this budget will make UC more affordable, accessible, and excellent for all," Arasasingham said.
Laura Szabo-Kubitz of the Institute for College Access and Success said Newsom's proposed investments in housing, textbook alternatives, digital technology, summer Cal Grants, college savings accounts and stipends for service programs would help put higher education within reach for all students.
"Today's revision underscores the Governor's continuing commitment to economic recovery and provides long-term investments to help disrupt intergenerational poverty," she said.
She and other equity advocates, however, urged greater investments in the Cal Grant program to widen access to more students, as the California Student Aid Commission and legislators are proposing.
Newsom also proposed substantial funding for K-12 programs. They include:
$1 billion annually for additional after-school and summer programs in low-income communities — building up to $5 billion.
$4 billion for youth mental health that would be part of a broad reshaping of the state’s mental health system.
More than $3.3 billion for teacher and school employee training.
$3 billion for “community schools,” where education is integrated with healthcare and mental health services.
A $500 college savings account for students from a low-income family with an additional $500 for foster youth and those who are homeless.
Newsom noted Friday that the base per-pupil funding rise to about $14,000 per student is about double the level of a decade ago. With the addition of ongoing and one-time federal funding, the total funding rate rises above $20,000 per student — at least for the immediate term.
More broadly speaking, young children also stand to benefit from family stabilization proposals, such as an end to taxes on diapers and funds to pay back rent for low-income families threatened with eviction.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.