Community College Students Toss Questions to Legislators

At a question and answer forum 5 state legislators promised to seek help for higher education from Sacramento.

Higher tuition, fewer class offerings, the cost of prisons versus higher education, and the 600-lb. Gorilla—repeal of Prop. 13—were among the subjects broached by students at a town hall-like meeting with state legislators and community college students.

Five state legislators—Assemblymembers  (D-Cupertino),  (D-San Jose), , , and Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont)—answered students’ questions and heard their concerns at Funding our Future: A Student Budget Dialogue with Legislators held at De Anza College April 19.

A panel of community college student trustees from around the Bay Area and other students active in the college community fielded questions and helped clarify developments in areas such as legislation, policy, student loans, and diversity.

The student panel included , student trustee of De Anza College; Julia Franklin and Shaila Ramos of De Anza College; Kevin Feliciano, student trustee of Ohlone College in Fremont; Tim Avila of Gavilan College in Gilroy; and Rich Copenhagen, student trustee of Peralta Community College District in Alameda County.

After a brief introduction and presentation on the state budget overview, De Anza College President Brian Murphy opened the floor to audience members for questions or comments. Following is a snippet of what was covered:

Prison spending vs. higher education

After an audience member posed the question of prison spending, Beall said the state is in dire need of reform in the criminal justice system. There is a 75 percent rate of recidivism within a two-year span of when an inmate is released from jail, he said. The rising costs of the prison system is also cutting into funding that could go to higher education.

“We’re spending more money on prisons than on higher education,” he said. “Every dime that is spent increases in budgets for prisons is taken away from higher education.”

Prop. 13

A student asked what she could do as an individual to revise Prop. 13, the 1978-enacted amendment that limited property taxation and is blamed for reduction in education funding.

“I believe in the split roll tax. Commercial taxes used to account for 60 percent of our taxes, now they account for 40 percent of our taxes,” Fong said. “We need to get to a 50-50 ratio somehow. I believe updating the commercial tax roll and I believe in the split roll tax and that should help us a little bit.”

Hill said the tax reduction hit not just education but also city and county services and the CalWorks program.

“The difficulty is the politics of it,” Hill said. “We need to deal with the politics as much as with the policy.”

Wieckowski offered a solution the students could take home with them, suggesting they try to influence family members to support changes to the property tax structure.

“If you can get into your grandparents’ face, and your uncles and aunts faces and every time you’re at a community get-together, and when they say, ‘I don’t like paying taxes. I don’t want to pay taxes.’ Ask them what type of community do they want to provide for our students?” he charged.

“Do you want to get back to that 1960 dream where you guys wouldn’t be paying anything and you could walk in here and take classes and we’re a community? So don’t let them get by when you hear somebody snap and say, ‘Oh I don’t like taxes or my taxes are too high.’ Ask them what are you talking about, your taxes are less than they were under Ronald Reagan, the reality is. So get in their faces a little bit,” Wieckowski said.

Limited class offerings

A dilemma one female student faces is one others are bound to face as the number of classes offered by community colleges is cut along with budget reductions. This student explained that she lives off of student loans and financial aid, and in order to qualify for those she must maintain full-time status. Her concern lay in being able to take classes she needs and wants in order to maintain the number of qualifying credits.

Kevin Feliciano, student trustee for Ohlone College in Fremont, said it’s a problem he is well aware of and knows of students who take classes they don’t need or aren’t even interested in just to maintain that full-time status. A student signs up for micro biology, for example, even though that student has no interest or need for that particular class, he said.

The domino effect though comes into play because those types of students may be taking away seats from students who really do need micro biology, he said. 

It was a scenario the legislators promised to take back to Sacramento with them to fully explore and try to rectify.


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