Community and Government Report, June 2009
In an effort to balance the $24 billion deficit, the governor has called for the elimination of the Cal Grant program for incoming college freshmen. That's right, not simply reduce the grant, but eliminate the program for freshmen altogether. In response to the concern about these cuts, the legislative Budget Conference Committee rejected the governor's proposal. While this is very good news, the threat to the program remains.
As the budget negotiations continue, a final budget deal will be reached by the "big five" legislative leaders in the Assembly, Senate and governor's office. Recently, Darrell Steinberg, senate president, announced his support of a measure that would fund a portion of some at-risk programs by spending down the state $5 billion rainy-day reserve. He told the media, "The purpose of a rainy-day fund is to provide a reserve for a rainy day. It is thunder and lightning in California right now."
Once a budget agreement is reached, there is very little room for amendments. The College has taken steps to advocate for the continuation of this program, such as Brother Ronald's letter to the Governor as well as his guest column in the June 6 issue of the Contra Costa Times. We encourage you to contact the governor at (916) 445-2841, and your assembly member and your state senator and tell them you want them to fund the Cal Grant program. Elimination or significant reduction of the program would be devastating to the 186 coming to Saint Mary's and the 118,000 incoming freshmen statewide.
Yellow Ribbon program
According to the California Institute for Federal Policy Research, Reps. Buck McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) and Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) introduced a bill to rectify an unforeseen consequence of recently enacted legislation that will unfairly penalize California veterans. The bill was cosponsored by a bipartisan majority of California members.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is a new education benefit program for individuals who served honorably on active duty after Sept. 11, 2001. Part of this bill the Yellow Ribbon Program, which allows veterans multiple options for higher ed. Based on the length of active-duty service, veterans are entitled to a percentage of the following: a) the cost of tuition and fees, not to exceed the most expensive in-state public undergraduate tuition; b) a monthly housing allowance; c) a yearly books and supplies stipend of up to $1,000 per year; and d) a one-time payment of $500 paid to certain individuals relocating from highly rural areas.
On April 17, 2009, the VA released its determination on each state's maximum benefit levels. California's public higher education institutions charge no tuition, only fees, which are considerably higher than the cost of fees at private institutions like Saint Mary's that charge tuition. Based on the no-tuition system at UC and CSU, the VA determined the maximum tuition benefit for California's veterans is $0, and the maximum fee benefit is $6,586.54. Therefore, California veterans wishing to attend Saint Mary's would nothing to defray the cost of tuition.
The McKeon-Thompson Veterans Educational Equity Act, H.R. 2474, seeks to ensure California veterans are able to access the full benefit calculated under the law, rather than limiting their funding because of the state's zero tuition policy. It will allow the full benefit of $6,586 in tuition and fees each veteran to help offset the cost of a private education, granting California's veterans benefits similar to those enjoyed by veterans in other states.
In supporting this legislation Brother President Ronald Gallagher said, "The Veterans Educational Equity Act will allow California veterans more options as they pursue their education goals. Our veterans deserve the opportunity to explore multiple options when choosing a college. This legislation will provide our veterans with a full range of choices that fit their unique circumstances. We look forward to continuing our long history of providing a quality education to veterans."
While it was hoped this legislation would move quickly, it has been delayed in the House as the majority is seeking "offsets" to cover any additional cost this change would incur. We are monitoring this legislation very closely. Saint Mary's has submitted our application of participation in this program by the June 15 deadline. According to Lyone Harris, assistant registrar and coordinator for veteran's issues at Saint Mary's, we have received interest from at least 10 veterans considering attending SMC in the fall. We look forward to welcoming those veterans to campus.
Rep. Ellen Tauscher breezed through her U.S. Senate committee hearing on June 9 for appointment as undersecretary of state for arms control. The full Senate is expected to confirm her later this month. Once she is confirmed, she will resign Congressional seat and the governor will call for a special election later this summer.
The Moraga Chamber of Commerce holds monthly membership mixers, which allow members and guests to reconnect and discuss current issues in the business community. The College will be hosting the June mixer at the Rheem campus. There will be food from four local restaurants and wine tasting of some local wines; there is a $5 donation to the chamber. The mixer will be Tues., June 23, from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. Please feel free to contact Tim Farley at ext. 4830 if you would like additional information on this event.
As summer kicks into high gear, the Moraga Parks Foundation once again has its summer concert series. This is the 32nd year of this wonderful program. Every Thursday evening through August 20, the evening concerts at The Commons Park are free and open to all. Families bring blankets, lawn chairs and picnic dinners and enjoys warm summer evenings and music. For more information, please visit the Moraga Parks Foundation website.
Should Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor be confirmed by the Senate, she would become the 13th Catholic ever to serve on the United States Supreme Court. Of the 12 Catholic justices, five are currently on the bench. If she joins the exclusive club, the Supreme Court would have six Catholic members at once, a record amount.