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Assembly speaker says Cal State could get bigger funding boost

California Gov. Jerry Brown jokingly apologized to fellow California State University trustees Tuesday for making the same speech meeting after meeting: the system's request for additional funding competes with a long list of other priorities that outpace resources.

But Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, also a Cal State trustee, dangled the prospect that the Legislature might be willing to consider more than the $142.2-million boost that the governor has proposed for the university system in his 2014-15 spending plan.

In November, Cal State had requested a budget increase of $237.6 million to enroll 20,000 more students and hire 500 additional full-time faculty, among other measures.

Pérez suggested that the university might make a convincing case for more than what Brown is offering but less than what the university wants.

"To the extent that you can inspire my colleagues to get to a number between his and yours, it would be helpful to understand the priorities of what you would do with the additional funding," said Pérez, making a rare appearance at the trustees' meeting in Long Beach. Brown has become a regular attendee.

Chancellor Timothy P. White seized the opportunity to recount the needs of a system, which, despite recent funding increases, is still struggling to recover from more than $1 billion in budget cuts during the recession.

Those cuts reduced faculty ranks, class offerings and student support programs, all of which hinder students' ability to graduate on time and ultimately enter the workforce.

"We're committed to redoubling our efforts to get more students to high-quality degrees sooner," White told Pérez. "That's really at the core of success for California's economic future and social mobility."

The governor countered that there continue to be "lots of interests, desires and claims" on state funding.

"It's challenging to grasp what is important and what is not so important," Brown said. "I like the academic world, I like reading about what academics do, but there's always a gap."

He also reiterated his continuing theme that technology, including online education, would ultimately yield savings for Cal State, the University of California and California community colleges.

"It's not going to happen soon and I don't know in what form, but I can imagine students googling English 101," Brown said.

Trustees also heard a proposal Tuesday to enact a systemwide $4 annual fee on students to support the California State Students Assn., which has been funded by campus dues and the chancellor's office.

Student fees have become controversial, with an increasing number of campuses enacting so-called student success fees to support faculty hiring, classroom improvements and instructional programs that critics contend should be confined to regular tuition.

Students from a number of campuses are expected to protest those charges at Wednesday's board meeting.

In this case, the fee would be voluntary and would help the student association provide a greater presence in Sacramento and Washington, provide more opportunities to engage students on campus and give the association greater independence from the chancellor's office, association President Sarah Couch said.

"This is about student investment and enhancing the student experience," said Couch, who's studying for a masters' degree in English literature at Sacramento State University.

The board is scheduled to vote on the fee at its May meeting.

carla.rivera@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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