Credit: Christina House/Los Angeles Times/Polaris
Cal State University Fullerton student Linh Trinh, 21, right, and her boyfriend Tan Nguyen, 21, walk around a deserted CSUF campus on Tuesday, April 21.

In a tough budget year, officials from the California State University system hope the state will fully fund a new mandatory ethnic studies requirement imposed by the state Legislature earlier this year.

In an interview with EdSource this week, retiring Chancellor Timothy P. White said the governor’s office and the Legislature should invest in the 23-campus university system, including funding mandates like Assembly Bill 1460, which created the new ethnic studies requirement.

The new law requires CSU students to take at least one class in one of four ethnic studies disciplines: Native American studies, African American studies, Asian American studies or Latina and Latino studies.

“When the Legislature creates a mandate for us in any area, there’s a cost associated with it; it’s only fair that they also pick up the financial tab,” White said. “Unfunded mandates are ways in which you actually weaken the university. So now that this has been signed into law by the governor, they simply need to come forward and pay for the additional costs.”

The CSU estimates the ethnic studies requirement will cost $16.5 million to implement. The money would go toward expanding ethnic studies across the state and hiring instructors.

It’s part of a more than half a billion dollars request for funding for next year. The CSU is asking for $556 million, which would include restoring $299 million that was cut from the 2020-21 budget by the state this summer. The Legislature cut the money in hopes that funding would be restored through a one-time federal stimulus this winter, which has been stalled in Washington.

The Legislature is not required to fund mandates like the ethnic studies requirement at CSU. It could allocate any dollar amount to new requirements or require the university system to cut in other areas. CSU, since it’s not a local government or school district, is exempt from the requirement that the Legislature fund mandates. 

Included in CSU’s more than half-billion funding request to the state is $150 million for the system’s Graduation Initiative 2025, aiming to increase graduation rates and close racial equity gaps.

With more investment from the state, the system would “add more high-demand course sections required for graduation,” said Steve Relyea, CSU’s executive vice-chancellor and chief financial officer, during the November Board of Trustees meeting. 

If the Legislature doesn’t restore the money that was cut last year, they would jeopardize the university’s graduation goals, the ability to meet mandatory costs and to support current and record enrollment, said Ryan Storm, CSU’s assistant vice-chancellor for budget, during that meeting.

During that November board meeting, White said he wanted to “manage our expectations” and warned that even in good budget years lawmakers have been less willing to completely fund CSU’s request.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has talked about his No. 1 priority being to help small businesses, White said. “There are a lot of small businesses in a state of 40 million people,” and the unexpected revenue the state has seen will only go so far, he said, referring to a recent Legislative Analyst’s Office report which estimates California could see a state budget surplus next year as low as $12 billion or as high as $40 billion. “Our responsibility is to ask for what we need.”

The governor’s office did not respond to a question from EdSource about what he has in mind for funding CSU in his budget proposal for the coming fiscal year. That budget must be submitted to the Legislature no later than Jan. 10.

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