Webinar Recap: What to Watch for in California's 2019-20 Higher Education Budget

Topics: Affordability, Community Colleges, Data Systems, Four-Year Colleges, Higher Ed Finance

In May California Competes partnered with The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) to discuss Governor Newsom's revisions to the 2019 budget proposal. The following is a snapshot of recent updates and what to watch for as the Legislature and Governor work during these final weeks to craft the 2019-20 state budget.

Thank you to Laura Szabo-Kubitz, Associate California Program Director at the Institute for College Access and Success for her collaboration and contribution to this article.

Investments in his January budget proposal and subsequent May Revision indicate that higher education is a priority for California Governor Gavin Newsom. Recent Assembly and Senate budget subcommittee actions, along with evolving legislation moving through both chambers, underscore the Legislature’s interest in improving Californians’ access to and success in quality higher education. As the June 15th deadline approaches for the Legislature to send a budget to the Governor, the 2019-20 Conference Committee on the Budget—comprised of five state senators and five assembly members—is meeting to reconcile differences in actions taken by the two legislative chambers. The following is a snapshot of what’s happened so far for segment budgets, college affordability, and a statewide longitudinal data system, and what to watch for as the Legislature and Governor work during these final weeks to craft the 2019-20 state budget.

This year, policymakers have identified and emphasized important strategies to support higher education in California and must continue the momentum.

Key Changes in Segment Budgets

All public segments—the California Community Colleges (CCC), the California State University (CSU), and the University of California (UC)— received an increase in General Fund apportionments in the May Revise.

Both the UC and CSU were allotted additional funds ($3.5 million and $6.5 million, respectively) for rapid rehousing efforts, beyond January apportionments. However, no such allocations were made for the community colleges in the May Revision, despite the CCC serving a majority of food and housing insecure students in California[1]. While both the Assembly and the Senate budget subcommittees approved these allotments at the UC and CSU, each also chose to fund student hunger and homeless initiatives at the community colleges. The Senate budget subcommittee voted to add $14.5 million in one-time funds for community college students facing food insecurity, $500,000 one-time funding for an assessment of college-based food programs, and $9 million on-going to address student homelessness. The Assembly budget subcommittee voted to provide $20 million in one-time funds for basic needs and $10 million for rapid rehousing at the community colleges.

The Governor’s May budget also proposed extending the CCC’s California College Promise program by an additional year, which would allow participating colleges to provide two years of free tuition to first-time, full-time community college students without financial need. Importantly, the law that originally created this program –AB 19 (Santiago, 2017) – also gives CCC districts the flexibility to use the given funds to support student success in other ways, including helping students with financial need pay for critical non-tuition costs. Extending the College Promise by an additional year was approved by both budget subcommittees.

The policy context: The Governor’s intent to extend the California College Promise program aligns with legislative proposal AB 2 (Santiago), currently awaiting policy committee referral in the Senate, which would also give institutions flexibility in designating what qualifies as “full-time” for students with demonstrated disabilities. Should funding for this item not be included in the final budget, the California College Promise program may still be extended through AB 2, but its funding would be contingent upon a future budget agreement.

Financial Aid and Affordability

Governor Newsom’s January budget proposed a critical ‘down payment’ on expanding and strengthening the state Cal Grant program to improve college affordability in California. In addition to increasing the number of new competitive Cal Grants from 25,750 to 30,000 annually, the Governor also proposed creating an additional Cal Grant access award for student parents.

Both the Assembly and the Senate budget subcommittees rejected the student parent access award in favor of alternative proposals to serve greater numbers of student parents. The Legislature’s proposals include investing in a larger number of competitive Cal Grants (14,000 more in the Senate and 40,000 more in the Assembly) to help more students (including several thousand parents) receive grants, increasing the size of the Cal Grant B access award (by $188 in the Senate) which helps the lowest income students pay for non-tuition college costs, and creating a summer Cal Grant (Senate and Assembly).

The policy context: The Governor’s interest in financial aid is mirrored in several bills that continue to move through the Legislature, including two that would make major reforms to state need-based financial aid:

AB 1314 (Medina, McCarty), currently awaiting policy committee referral in the Senate, would make significant reforms to the Cal Grant program including:
  • Consolidating all Cal Grants and the Middle Class Scholarship into one program
  • Reducing and removing barriers to access (e.g., age, time out of high school, GPA)
  • Creating a summer Cal Grant

SB 291 (Leyva), currently awaiting policy committee referral in the Assembly, also tackles college affordability but specifically for CCC students. It would create the California Community College Student Financial Aid Program to provide need-based grants to help eligible students cover total college costs.

The Need for Longitudinal Student Data

The Governor’s budget also included $10 million in seed funding for the Cradle-to-Career Data Insights Act, which would establish an exploratory workgroup through the State Board of Education (SBE) to develop a plan for California’s statewide longitudinal data system (SLDS) that connects student-level data from preschool through the workforce.

Despite California being one of the few states without such a mechanism, both budget subcommittees rejected the Governor’s proposal, voting instead to create new placeholder trailer bill language. The changes, which were nearly identical in both subcommittees, would require the Office of Planning and Research, not the SBE, to establish a working group to create the SLDS plan, also at a cost of $10 million. Other items in the new language would make changes to how the workgroup reports its analysis, giving the Legislature, rather than the Department of Finance, authority for further action on its proposed plan and gives the legislature oversight on holding some funds until the plan is heard and approved. While the Legislature and the Governor appear aligned on the need for an SLDS, the subcommittee votes imply that the Legislature wants more involvement in the development of the system.

The policy context: Legislators have also put forth their own proposals this year to develop an SLDS with largely similar structures to the Governor’s budget proposal:

  • AB 1466 (Irwin) is most similar to the Governor’s proposal and would authorize the Governor’s office to develop a data taskforce to author a plan for SLDS implementation. This bill, waiting on committee assignment in the Senate, expands on the budget proposal by identifying specific questions the taskforce would be required to answer.

  • SB 2 (Glazer) would authorize an Office of Higher Education Coordination, Accountability, and Performance – if SB 3 (Allen) is enacted – to establish a plan for an SLDS. SB 2 is currently waiting on committee assignment in the Assembly, and SB 3 has been referred to the Assembly Committee on Higher Education.

This year, policymakers have identified and emphasized important strategies to support higher education in California and must continue the momentum. The state faces the possibility of several major reforms changing the postsecondary experience for students and stakeholders in critical ways: from affordability to statewide longitudinal data to a new state office for higher education. As this work continues, policy advocates, student leaders, and researchers remain attentive to the many policy proposals and budget items going strong in the Legislature and Administration, working to ensure a robust postsecondary education system in California.

Take a look at our slides from our May 23rd webinar for more details on key higher education budget actions.

[1] California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, Basic Needs Survey Report, 2018