March 2010 was truly a remarkable month in Saint Mary's history. The men's and women's basketball teams gave the community â€“ not just on campus but in the East Bay â€“ great joy. Local schoolchildren were encouraged to wear red and blue on game days. Message boards and restaurant menus in the Moraga area had some form of recognition for our teams, and the police and fire departments provided several escorts to the men's team as it returned from its rounds of postseason play. The journey was a thrilling ride.
While most of the chatter coming from Washington in recent months has dealt with the issue of health care reform, student aid reform was also part of the conversation. The final health care bill contained a provision which will have long-term implications for student aid. This measure will streamline the student loan process and eliminate the middle man, freeing billions of dollars that will go directly to students. Removing the private lenders would free up nearly $67 billion over the next decade. This extra money would be used to provide more aid in the Pell program.
Another noteworthy component of the health care bill is the ability for young people to remain on their parents' health care insurance up to the age of 26. In these challenging economic times, this provides a bridge from graduation until students land a job. To be sure, there is controversy around this bill, but to many families, having health insurance up until age 26 is a real relief.
Six Saint Mary's students went to Sacramento to share their stories about the critical financial aid they've received through the Cal Grant program and to lobby for continued funding in the upcoming state budget.
"Without Cal Grants, I know I would not be in school today," sophomore Alana Armstrong told state Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, R-Manteca. "I am the first woman from my family to go to college. Cal Grants made this dream possible."
Berryhill acknowledged that "Cal Grants have been a successful program," but he cautioned that "many difficult budget decisions still lay ahead."
In addition to Berryhill, the Saint Mary's delegation met with state Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and Senator Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord. DeSaulnier was especially generous with his time as he took the students down to the Senate floor and Assembly floor and discussed with them the challenges state legislators face with the 2010-11 state budget.
The budget is $20 billion in the red, and the state legislature and governor are expected to clash on many details as they try to cope with closing the shortfall.
The Saint Mary's student-lobbyists joined more than 100 students from throughout the state to visit 78 legislative offices.
Among the Saint Mary's lobbyists were triplets Melissa, Michelle and Maryanne Cafagna, who are freshmen at the College and whose family needs help from Cal Grants to help them with tuition.
Congratulations to Edy Schwartz, executive director of the Moraga Chamber of Commerce, who was selected as the Moraga Citizen of the Year. Schwartz will be honored at a banquet on Friday, April 23, at the Soda Center.
Finally, John Paul Stevens recently announced his retirement from the United States Supreme Court after serving as a justice for 35 years. Stevens was appointed in 1975 to replace legendary jurist William O. Douglas, who was the longest-serving justice in court history. Together Douglas and Stevens held that one seat for a record 71 years.