Assemblymember Recognized for Courageous Stand Against Education, Cal Grant Cuts
In an awards ceremony at Saint Mary’s College, Assemblymember Susan Bonilla was honored as the first recipient of the "Policy Maker of the Year" award from the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU) for her bold defense of Cal Grants in the face of threatened state budget cuts.
As chair of the state assembly's budget subcommittee on education finance, Bonilla led the charge against budget cuts proposed by Governor Jerry Brown that would have slashed an estimated $302 million from the Cal Grant program, reducing the average grant from $9,708 to $5,472. At Saint Mary’s, the cuts would have cost the College more than $3 million in student aid.
Under Bonilla’s leadership, the budget subcommittee voted 4-0 in March to reject Brown’s proposed cuts, which were part of his proposal to trim $9.2 billion from the state's 2012-13 budget. Saying “we’re drawing a line,” she told the governor he would have to “find the cuts somewhere else.”
She then worked with other legislators, their staff and AICCU to forge a compromise that minimized the budget cuts to Cal Grant students, including those attending California’s nonprofit independent institutions, such as Saint Mary’s. In the end, cuts to Cal Grants were held to 17 percent rather than the 44 percent originally requested by the governor.
At the award ceremony at the Soda Center, AICCU President Kristen Soares called Bonilla “a hero” to California education. She said the “Policy Maker of the Year” award will be given annually to an individual who has worked to assure that the contributions of California's nonprofit private sector are appreciated as part of the solution to challenges facing the state.
Saint Mary’s president Brother Ronald Gallagher said, “Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla has been a unyielding champion of educational access for Cal Grant-eligible students at Saint Mary’s and other independent colleges across the state. We are proud to join with the AICCU in honoring her efforts to ensure that academically qualified students with limited resources have opportunities to pursue higher education.”
In accepting the award, Bonilla, a former teacher and former mayor of Concord, noted that she herself attended a private California university and relied on Cal Grants and scholarships to finance her education. She said that experience feeds her passion for defending education.
“Education is the door that opens up the world and transforms lives,” she said. “If we want economic recovery and responsible citizens, we know education is the answer and the pathway.” She criticized the governor for targeting Cal Grants, saying that after two years of deep cuts to state colleges and universities, shifting the cuts to students, and especially poor students, was “shocking.”
Bonilla said she was honored to be recognized for her accomplishments in the Cal Grants budget fight and she praised the college presidents and education representatives on hand for the AICCU’s annual Presidents Meeting , saying, “You’ve performed an incredible work of partnership on behalf of our neediest students.” But she reminded them that “we’re still in a war.”
The next battle in that war will be fought at the upcoming election, and Bonilla strongly urged the AICCU members to work for the passage of Proposition 30, a tax measure on the November ballot that would raise an additional $6 billion and prevent more deep cuts to education programs in California.
By Teresa Castle
Office of College Communications
Photos by Dan Rosenstraugh