State Senate leader Kevin de León proposed legislation Tuesday to help the University of California avoid tuition hikes by phasing out a middle-class scholarship program championed by a bitter political rival.
De León's proposal is one element of a broad plan to increase funding and enrollment in the UC and Cal State University systems. The UC Board of Regents has proposed raising tuition, which now stands at $12,200 for in-state undergraduates, by as much as 5% a year for the next five years.
The scholarship program is in its first year. It provides tuition credits for UC and CSU students from families with incomes between $80,000 and $150,000 — too high to qualify for most other financial aid. The credits average $1,112 for those enrolled at the University of California and $628 at Cal State.
Other elements of the legislative proposal would provide funding to increase UC enrollment by 5,000 and CSU enrollment by 10,500 next year. It would also provide CSU students up to $4,500 in grants if they stay on track to get their degrees in four years rather than the current average of six.
The plan would provide $75 million in general funds each to CSU and UC starting next year to provide more classes and counseling to help students get degrees on time, and would repeal this year's planned 11% cut to Cal Grants for low-income students attending private universities.
To help pay for the plan, Senate Democrats propose diverting up to $580 million from the middle-class scholarship program over the next three years. Also, they would raise premium fees on out-of-state students by 17% and take $156 million from the state general fund the first year.
Officials at the California Student Aid Commission, which administers the middle-class scholarships, will wait to examine all budget proposals, including the governor's in January, before commenting, said commission spokeswoman Patti Colston.
The scholarship program, a pet project of former Assembly Speaker John Pérez, was something of a disappointment in its first year. Just 73,000 students are receiving aid, about half the expected number.
Financial aid administrators said they expected the number to rise as more eligible families become aware of the program. Those currently participating could continue but the proposal by De León and Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego) would not allow any additional students to receive the aid.
Maximum middle-class grants this year are $1,710 for UC students and $768 for Cal State enrollees.
De León denied that the new plan has anything to do with differences he has had with Pérez, who considers the scholarships a key part of his legislative legacy. In 2009, De León lost the speaker's post to Pérez and De León was stripped of his committee chairmanship and shunted off to one of the worst offices in the Capitol.
Pérez left the Legislature two days ago and was recently appointed to the UC Board of Regents. Asked about De León's measure, Pérez said the scholarship program is "hugely popular and important."
Gov. Jerry Brown's office would not comment, saying the administration would outline its position in Brown's budget in January.
University of California President Janet Napolitano called the plan a promising first step.
Cal State system spokesman Michael Uhlenkamp said the Senate proposal would provide about $125 million more than the 4% increase the governor proposed and tops the amount the university sought in its early budget request.