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Prop. 92 failure is blamed on poor timing

Times Staff Writer

Opponents and supporters of Proposition 92, which would have lowered fees for community college students, said Wednesday that poor timing led to the measure’s defeat.

“I think when you’re asking to spend nearly $1 billion over the next few years, you have to know California taxpayers aren’t going to go for it,” said Theresa Wheeler, manager of Californians for Fair Education Funding, which campaigned against Proposition 92.

“We might have done this differently had we known what the economy would’ve looked like,” said Scott Lay, head of the Community Colleges League of California, which championed the measure.

But despite “facing a very difficult budget year, nearly 3 million [voters] gave the thumbs up to more funding to community colleges. We’re very well positioned for a very difficult budget fight this year,” he said.

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Although Proposition 92 was rejected by 57% of voters Tuesday, opponents and supporters said the measure succeeded in drawing attention to community colleges and that conversations on how to fund them must continue.

The California Teachers Assn. campaigned against the initiative but in a mailer sent to voters ahead of Super Tuesday qualified the opposition with a quote by its president, David Sanchez: “We have made it a top legislative priority in 2008 to guarantee community colleges get their full share of funding.”

Proposition 92 sought to boost and stabilize funding by cutting fees from $20 to $15 per unit, limiting the ability of lawmakers to increase fees and setting a minimum level of state funding for the state’s 109 community colleges.

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office said the measure could have cost the state an additional $300 million a year for the next two years before funding reverted to current levels. Many voters may have found those costs too high, especially with California facing a $14.5-billion budget shortfall.

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Mark Drummond, chancellor of the Los Angeles Community College District, agrees that the measure brought the funding issue “to the surface,” but does not want to look forward to another year in which community colleges “need to be pitted against K-12.”

Money for community colleges comes from the same pool that funds primary and secondary education. Proposition 92 would have split the funding pool into two.

Wheeler said the measure’s rejection was not a reflection of voters’ esteem of community colleges. Instead, she said, was the result of a “flawed proposal.”

“They were worried there was no money to pay for it and that it would cause cuts to other programs -- including educational ones,” Wheeler said.

The governing bodies of the University of California and Cal State University systems unanimously opposed Proposition 92. Both statewide systems are not guaranteed level of state funding and their students face fee hikes again this year, 7.4% at UC schools and 10% at Cal State.

Although disappointed with the vote result, Proposition 92 supporters noted that the measure inspired many students to get involved in politics.

“I fliered, I went to fundraisers, I spoke at rallies,” said Shawn Yee, 22, a computer engineering student at the City College of San Francisco. “We got together and did a good job of getting the word out.”

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daniela.perdomo@ latimes.com


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