State budget puts community colleges on (slow) path to recovery

June 14, 2013

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Dan Troy

Celebrate might be too strong a word, but, in the current fiscal context, community colleges have reason to at least raise a small glass as they head into summer.

The budget bill passed Friday by the Legislature brings the budget for the 112 community colleges up to $6 billion for the 2013-14 fiscal year. That’s up by more than $200 million over this year, and begins the process of restoring the $809 million hit community college have taken during the past three years.

The two big-ticket items include funding to start bringing back students and a cost-of-living increase. The budget provides an additional $89.4 million to rebuild enrollment. That will fund about 40,000 additional students; however, it still accounts for less than 10 percent of the 470,000 students community college officials said the system lost during the bad years.

There’s also $87.5 million COLA increase, about 1.57 percent, the first since 2007, said Dan Troy, Vice Chancellor for Finance at the statewide community college office. How the COLA is distributed is up to each community college district. While some of it will go into salary negotiations for professors and staff, it will also help cover the rising costs of everything from the electric bill to supplies.

Other budget increases include:

 

“Information technology improves exponentially every year,” Troy said, “and as much as colleges are trying to keep up with those changes, it can be hard when you don’t have specific line items in the budget to do that.”

One budget item that declined between Gov. Brown’s May revise and the trailer bill is the amount put into paying down deferrals, the money borrowed from future years’ community college budgets to help cover deficits during the recession. Brown proposed paying off $64 million in 2013-14, but the Legislature reduced it to $30 million.  But the  rationale is a good one, Troy said.  Lawmakers are putting the rest of the money into student services for disabled, low-income and at-risk students; those services had been seriously diminished in recent years. Before Proposition 30, which raises temporary taxes to pay for education, the community college college deferral was $961 million; the deferral will fall to just under $600 million next year.

Overall, Troy said community college officials are pleased with the budget, which raised the per-student apportionment to $4,637, up from $4,565.  Despite the increase, funding hasn’t been keeping pace with needs, Troy said.

“I think I can say we’ve been going in the wrong direction in recent years, and not only have we not kept pace with the cost of inflation, we’ve gone backwards,” Troy said.

The new budget, he said, not only boosts the number of students community colleges can educate, but also helps restore the quality of that education.

The budget now awaits Gov. Jerry Brown’s approval. 

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