Senate leader Kevin De Leon proposes slashing rival's key program

California Senate leader proposes deep cuts to scholarship program that was legacy of a political foe

Two days after lawmaker John Perez left office, longtime political rival and Senate leader Kevin De Leon proposed Tuesday to make deep cuts to a scholarship program seen as a key part of Perez's legacy as state Assembly speaker.

De Leon, who like Perez is a Democrat from Los Angeles, said taking as much as $580 million over three years from the Perez-conceived Middle Class Scholarship program is a necessary part of a new plan to avoid 5% annual tuition hikes in the University of California system and allow thousands more students to attend and afford UC and the California State University system.

Legislation that was developed by De Leon, his staff and others, and introduced by Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego), “will improve college access, affordability, and help students complete their degrees,” according to a statement released by the president pro tem's office.

In addition to eliminating the UC-proposed tuition hikes, SB 15 would increase UC enrollment by 5,000 students and CSU enrollment by 10,500 students next year.

The new plan would provide $75 million in general funds each to CSU and UC to provide more classes and student support.

“Every kid deserves a fair shot at attending a good public university in their own state, regardless of where they come from,” said the fact-sheet released by De Leon's office. “Our public universities need to accommodate more students and ensure they complete a degree.”

The proposal would cost $342 million next year rising to $434 million in the third year, with money to come from taking $580 million over three years from the Middle Class Scholarship program, a 17% increase in the premium charged to nonresidents attending UC, and $156 million from the general fund the first year, dropping to $66 million in the third year.

The Middle Class Scholarship program currently provides tuition credits to 73,000 students who do not otherwise have low enough incomes to qualify for financial aid. This year, the credits average $1,112 for those enrolled at the University of California. State officials estimated 156,000 students may be eligible.

The De Leon proposal would not allow additional students to join the program, taking the money that would have been spent and putting it into the new affordability plan.

Perez, who was not immediately available for comment, has battled politically for years with De Leon.

De Leon has said he thought his political career might be over in 2009 when he lost a bitter battle with Perez for the speaker post. De Leon was stripped of his committee chairmanship and shunted off to one of the worst offices in the Capitol.

The new plan would provide $75 million in general funds each to CSU and UC to provide more classes and student support.

The plan would also repeal this year’s planned 11% cut to Cal Grants for low income students, helping 29,000 of them, and it would also encourage corporations and individuals to make investments that would get tax credits to make more Cal Grants available.

The plan also would fund 7,500 additional Cal Grant Competitive Awards for older, nontraditional students.

A key feature would provide competitive grants to reward CSU students who make progress toward finishing their degrees in four years, which would free  more slots for more students. Currently many students take five to six years to get degrees. For instance, the state would provide a $2,000 grant to a student who completes 90 units in his or her third year.

[Updated at noon: University of California President Janet Napolitano later reacted positively to De Leon’s proposal.

“The bill introduced today is a promising first step toward making sure that public higher education benefits Californians today and for generations to come, and we look forward to working with Senate Democrats and other elected officials to secure the state funding essential to this end,” Napolitano said in a statement.

Perez also responded later. He noted that he is now a member of the board of regents and not an elected legislator so his response to the proposal was measured.

“I’m no longer a member of the Legislature so I don’t want to get into a back and forth,” Perez said. He said the bill is just a proposal that has to go through the legislative process so he does not see it as the end of a program he engineered.

 “It is the beginning of a process,” Perez said. “I don’t believe the middle class scholarship is going anywhere. I think its going to be here for the long-haul.”

De Leon said his proposal has nothing to do with any differences he has had with Perez in the past.

“It is not a critique of any particular current program. I think everything has to be on the table,” De Leon told reporters.]


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