Community and Government Relations Report January 2009
Contact Tim Farley, director of government and community relations
With the presidential inauguration today, all eyes will be on Washington. President elect Barack Obama has announced his major cabinet nominees. For the Department of Education, Obama has nominated Arne Duncan, the chief executive officer of the Chicago public schools. Duncan brings a unique skill set to the Department of Education. He earned his bachelor's degree at Harvard and later played professional basketball in Australia. In 1998 he joined the Chicago public schools and in 2001 Chicago Mayor Richard Daley appointed Duncan CEO, the equivalent of superintendant of schools.
While much of this week will focus on festivities surround the new administration, Congress has been hard at work to develop a federal stimulus package it can present to the president at the earliest possible moment. Preliminary details suggest the Pell Grant will be increased by $500 to a maximum of $5,231
As you may recall, the College suffered a setback when the Department of Education reduced our Federal Work Study allocation for 2008-09. Due to this cutback, Priscilla Muha, director of financial aid, and I met with Jennifer Barton, chief of staff to Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo. We asked if Rep. Tauscher would advocate for the college in our appeal and we are pleased to share the letter she sent to the United States Department of Education on our behalf.
As all eyes will be on Washington, Sacramento still casts a big shadow as California's chronic budget deficit continues to dominate the legislature and the governor's office. After two special sessions on the matter in November and December, both sides are still no closer to a resolution. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger continues to present possible budget solutions, from shortening the school year by five days to 175 days of instruction to closing state offices two days a month. Major cuts appear to be inevitable.
As for Cal Grants, below is the latest from Jonathan Brown, executive director of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU), about what is being discussed:
1) Reducing the Cal Grant Maximum Award for 2009-10 from the current $9,708 to $8,322. That is the level that we had for the award in the first year of this administration, but it is higher than the governor originally proposed in that year.
2) Freezing the income and asset ceilings for the coming year, which would further reduce the pool of eligible applicants by an undetermined amount.
3) Eliminating new awards in the Competitive Grant Program. This program is designed to meet the needs of non-traditional students. This proposal was made and defeated last year.
4) Decentralizing the Cal Grant program: There have been two alternatives discussed. The first, would pattern Cal Grants after the Pell Grant Program so that students would no longer send a copy of the Free Application for Federal Financial Aid *(FAFSA) to the state. Institutions would be required to establish an eligibility list, as they do for Pell Grant, and then submit it to the state for payment. The second proposal would distribute Cal Grant money to the public segments in their budgets but would hold our funding at the state level. That would make our funding more vulnerable. In late December AICCU had a discussion with the program budget manager for education and were led to believe that they were considering the first option.
5) The consolidation of the California Postsecondary Education Commission and the Student Aid Commission. This has been a proposal that has floated around for several years. It is assumed that it would save administrative costs and might even produce some better policy relationships on fee and financial aid policy. But it is likely to generate an immense turf battle as it did when the governor's efficiency commission proposed it in 2000.
We have heard, but not confirmed, that the governor also will not fund the increases in Cal Grants to offset the increase in fees in the public sector. We believe that based on other issues in the budget that the Cal Grant reductions are either slightly below or in proportion with other reductions in the budget. We also think there may be some room to work for improvements from this proposal - although a lot will depend on how the New Year develops. As we have commented in the last few months, the budget is close to catastrophic.
Proposals are in the early stage and the legislature can change them at any time. Additionally we do not know what, if any, impact the federal stimulus package would have on the state budget.
You may have noticed some delay along St. Mary's Road for the last week or so. The Central Contra Costa Sanitary District, (Central San) is completing a five-phase sewer upgrade in Lafayette. This program was scheduled to be completed in November but experienced some delays. It should be wrapped up by the end of this week.
Finally, a word on Claiborne Pell. While you have no doubt heard of the Pell Grants, you may not know they are named for Claiborne Pell, Democratic U.S. senator from the state of Rhode Island. Pell came from a long line of political figures: his father was a member of Congress and his great great uncle served as vice president under President Franklin Piece. Pell grew up in old world New England privilege, a true scion of the Lorillard Tobacco Company, yet he is best known for his commitment to access to higher education for all. In 1972, Pell sponsored the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant program. This program later was renamed as the Pell Grant in his honor. Pell died on January 1, 2009 at the age of 90.
Director of Community & Government Relations