Funding increase expected for community colleges, but use could be limited

File: Students walk on campus at West Los Angeles College in Los Angeles on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016.
File: Students walk on campus at West Los Angeles College in Los Angeles on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016.
Susanica Tam for KPCC

California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office issued a report this week that predicted the state’s community colleges could expect a significant funding increase next fiscal year.

The office said the growth of per capita personal income and the state taxes from that growth could mean public schools and community colleges will receive nearly $2.6 billion more in the 2018-2019 fiscal year than they did in the current year.

“This is good news,” said Tatiana Melguizo, an education researcher at the University of Southern California.

The increases come because of Proposition 98, a 1988 voter initiative that created a funding guarantee for public schools and community colleges. This fiscal year, that funding formula led to a 4.4 percent funding increase for community colleges that totaled $482 million.

The San Bernardino Community College district, like most others, has a long list of items they’d like to fund, including rising employee retirement costs.

“If our funding [for retirement costs] doesn’t increase, we’re going to have financial difficulty in the future,” said Jose Torres, the district’s vice chancellor for fiscal and business services.

Torres underlines the main difference between school district and community college funding. School districts have a lot more flexibility with state funds. The funding increases for community colleges will likely go to education overhauls approved by Sacramento in recent years.

“They might be using some of this extra funding towards the implementation of AB 705,” Melguizo said. That’s the law passed this year that compels community colleges to overhaul so-called remedial education in the next calendar year. Campuses have enrolled large proportions of incoming students into non-credit remedial classes because they’ve deemed the students deficient in math and English skills.

The goal is to turn around a troubling statistic: 48 percent of the state’s community college students earn a community college degree, certificate, or transfer to a university within six years.

The law changes how colleges place students into remedial classes and pushes administrators to enroll all students more quickly in credit bearing college level classes.

“It’s going to be expensive, I can tell you that,” Torres said, because faculty will need training, new classes will have to be created and added to schedules, and new computer software will have to be bought.

The chancellor of the California Community Colleges submitted a funding wish list in September.

That proposal included requests to increase the funds received for each student, increases for “promise” programs that encourage more students to enroll, and more funds to pay for full and part time faculty.

The first sign of whether Sacramento will fund some of these requests will come in January. That’s when Governor Jerry Brown releases the first draft of his budget proposal for the next fiscal year.