(Published in the San Jose Mercury News, January 31, 2008.
A version of the op ed also ran in the Berkeley Daily Planet)
By Nicky González Yuen
Voting for Proposition 92 in the Feb. 5 primary is not only the most important thing voters can do to improve the lives of 2.5 million community college students in California, it is also the most important thing voters can do to revitalize our ailing economy. The only question is this: Will voters be able to see through the campaign of disinformation and outright lies being put forward by opponents of Proposition 92?
Everyone has praise for California’s community colleges. Even Proposition 92 opponents say, “We all support community colleges.” But here’s the stark truth: California’s per student community college funding ranks 45th in the nation. For 15 years, the Sacramento politicians have not had the political will to do the right thing by middle class and working families. The University of California campuses are funded at $18,000 per student, the California State University colleges get $12,000 and the K-12 system gets $8,500. While this is not enough, community colleges get a miserable $5,200 per student.
What Californians need most is good jobs and good schools. Community colleges deliver on both scores – building an educated citizenry who can work in, and create, skilled jobs. Yes, there are many demands crying for attention in the state budget, from health care to public safety, and choices must be made. So, we can invest in people at the front end and give them a real chance of success, or we can clean up the disasters that happen when our citizens are shut out of the economy.
Proposition 92 makes investing in our people and our communities a top priority. These investments pay for themselves in very short order. More-educated citizens use fewer state social services, stay out of prison and pay far more in taxes. In fact, for every $1 we invest in community colleges we get back $3 in budget savings and revenue.
Proposition 92 makes more than just good budget sense. It also transforms the lives of Californians and helps our communities flourish. Community college students who earn a vocational degree or certificate see their wages jump in just three years from $25,600 to $47,571. I personally don’t know of any more effective way to lift people out of poverty and to give them a shot at the kind of life America promises.
Opponents of Proposition 92 have sent out a misleading hit piece claiming that community college spending is not accountable and will not benefit students. They also say Proposition 92 will hurt K-12 funding. These are complete fabrications meant to scare and confuse voters. The truth: State law requires that at least 50 percent of every community college dollar be spent directly in the classroom. And this does not even include spending for counselors, librarians, financial aid specialists, tutors and the host of other services needed to support today’s students. The truth: K-12 funding is not touched by Proposition 92. This is why Oakland School Board President David Kakishiba, the entire Berkeley School Board and the San Francisco School Board have all endorsed Proposition 92. Finally, locally elected community college boards of trustees and annual outside financial audits guarantee accountability at the local level. If trustees are not doing a good job, they can be thrown out of office at each election. This is our most basic system of democratic accountability. To assert otherwise is a lie, plain and simple.
We can all say that we support community colleges, but when Sacramento politics for 15 years in a row has shortchanged the community colleges and left their funding near the bottom in national rankings, you just have to question how sincere their support is. It’s time for the citizens of this state to exercise the power of direct democracy once again and do what Sacramento cannot seem to do: invest in the future. Vote YES on Proposition 92.
NICKY GONZÁLEZ YUEN is vice president of the Peralta Community College Board of Trustees representing the cities of Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville. He is also a political science instructor and department chair at De Anza College in Cupertino.