Credit: Larry Gordon / EdSource
Students on the Cal State Northridge campus

Governor Gavin Newsom proposed adding $10 million to help college students with emergency housing costs but stopped short of expanding the state’s Cal Grant program to cover full expenses of rent and food of all needy students.

Newsom did not embrace the massive financial aid increase that some legislators and advocates want to cover students’ living costs. Instead he proposed boosting state funding by $10 million “to support rapid rehousing of homeless and housing insecure students” at the ten-campus University of California system and the 23-campus California State University system. In his January budget plan, Newsom sought $30 million to help cover those students’ basic needs and his new plan would bring that total to $40 million.

He announced the additional money on Thursday as part of his May revision of his budget proposal for 2019-20.

“This hunger, homeless and housing crisis is real at UCs, community colleges and CSUs,” the governor declared.

While student advocates praised that extra proposed funding, they also expressed disappointment that the governor did not try to use some of the state’s historic revenue surplus to dramatically expand state-financed Cal Grants beyond tuition expenses and provide housing and food grants for all eligible students. Those additional costs could be as much as $3 billion a year, according to some analysts.

“If we cannot invest in a widespread Cal Grant overhaul now, then when can we? We have to do more to meet the total costs of attendance,” said Jessie Ryan, executive vice president of the Campaign for College Opportunity, a Los Angeles-based research and advocacy group.

Similarly, Assemblyman Jose Medina, (D-Riverside) who chairs the Assembly Higher Education Committee and has co-sponsored legislation to expand Cal Grants, said he wished Newsom would be bolder and push for “much-needed investments” in Cal Grants. “Student homelessness and food insecurity are the symptoms of a financial aid system that is underfunded and too outdated to meet the needs of today’s students,” Medina said in a statement.

While taking steps to help homeless students, the governor clearly does not want to take on such massive multi-billion dollar Cal Grant commitments now. “There are good intentions and dollars associated with them, and those have to be weighed” against all the other demands on state funds, according to H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state’s Finance Department.

That issue promises to be at the heart of debates between Newsom and the legislature as the final budget is hammered out.

In his revised budget, the governor maintained his commitment to keeping tuition frozen next year at UC, CSU and community colleges.

For UC, Newsom would keep his previously announced $240 million hike in general funds, which is a 7 percent raise and can accommodate 1,000 additional undergraduates. He also would maintain his proposal to provide UC $138 million more for structural repairs and maintenance. Now, Newsom is adding $25 million to help UC cover its massive retirement plan, expenses that often threaten to unbalance the system’s budgets.

During his terms as Lieutenant Governor, Newsom served on the UC Board of Regents and on Thursday he recalled all the worried discussions by regents about pension expenses. “I was paying attention. I took notes,” he said.

For CSU, he would maintain a $300 million general fund boost, an 8 percent ongoing raise over this year that would allow the system to enroll an extra 7,000 students and cover other costs. He also kept the one-time $262 million addition to fix up buildings and construct child care centers on campuses. On Thursday, he added $2 million for other CSU costs, including $1 million for a program that assists previously incarcerated people to enroll at the university.

“Governor Newsom continues to demonstrate his dedication to creating opportunity for Californians by increasing the level of investment in public higher education in his revised budget plan,” CSU system chancellor Timothy P. White said in a statement Thursday.

For the state’s 115 community colleges, Newsom’s January plan added $402 million in new funding — a significant increase, but well short of the $736 million in extra funds requested by the system’s Board of Governors.

The governor’s updated proposal added $5 million to the California College Promise plan that campuses can use to provide two years of free community college to students or pay for other student costs such as books. That brings his overall requested increase for that plan to about $45 million. The program can cover full-time students who otherwise aren’t eligible for tuition breaks meant for low-income students.

The community colleges received another boost when Newsom took what previously was to be a one-time $75 million increase in vocational and technical education programs and made that funding an ongoing budget item. That means it is likely to be included in future years’ budgets.

Newsom reiterated support for the Student Centered Funding formula at community colleges, a plan from former Governor Jerry Brown that allocates some funding based on colleges’ enrollments of low-income students and schools’ overall rates in graduation and transfers, among other measurements.

However, some community college leaders feared they faced a quick possible funding drop. So at the urging of the community college system, Newsom on Thursday proposed a one-year extension for a crucial deadline. Under his plan, no district will receive less money than it did in 2017-18, with cost of living adjustments, until 2021-22, a year later than originally designed.

“We appreciate the fact that the administration is giving colleges additional time,” said Christian Osmeña, vice chancellor for finance and facilities at the state’s community college system.

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