State Budget Impasse Hurts Community Colleges

California's budget impasse is in its third month and institutions that rely on state money are feeling the strain. California's community colleges haven't been paid since the start of July. KPCC's Julie Small reports administrators are scrambling to borrow $600 million to get by.

Julie Small: Community colleges know the drill. Most years, lawmakers in Sacramento pass the state budget late, so administrators are prepared to take out short-term loans to get by. But Erik Skinner says this year is different.

He works in the Chancellor's Office for the California Community Colleges System, and he says this budget is so late that schools are now in uncharted territory. If the stalemate lasts until the end of September, schools will have to borrow up to a billion dollars. And no, they won't get reimbursed for the interest they'll have to pay on a billion-dollar loan.

Erik Skinner: It's a tough time to try to borrow money; everybody is facing higher costs, and those costs are an additional cost, unanticipated costs, that, at the end of the day, are going to take dollars out of the classroom.

Small: Those are dollars community colleges need more than ever right now. Enrollment is up. That's because unemployment is also up, and so is the cost of attending a four-year university. That's driving more students to community college campuses to get some quick career training, or a low-cost jumpstart on a degree. And here's the triple of the triple budget whammy: Erik Skinner says the state's not sending out any Cal Grant checks for low-income students.

Skinner: Our Cal-Grant students are very low-income and really rely on the grants to pay for textbooks, pay for bus passes, and other critical beginning-of-the-year costs.

Small: Skinner worries that without the state grant money, many low-income students will be forced to drop out this semester.

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