State Budget Panel Sends Message on Plan to Slash Cal Grants

SMC Students Lobby Their Legislators to Help Save Aid Program

Assemblymember Susan BonillaThe campaign to save Cal Grant funding scored a small but significant victory this week when a key state panel voted against the governor’s proposals for drastic cuts in the state student aid program.

On Wednesday, the state Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance voted 4-0 to reject a number of measures proposed by Governor Jerry Brown that would shave an estimated $302 million from the Cal Grant program. The cuts are part of Brown's proposal to trim $9.2 billion from the state's 2012-13 budget.

SMC student Alana Armstrong ’12, who was among those who testified before the budget panel, told the committee that the Cal Grant was a major factor in her being able to complete college in four years. After listening to comments from the public, committee chair Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, said the governor would have to "find the cuts somewhere else” and added, “We're drawing a line."

Brother Ronald, lauded the committee’s stand. “I’m pleased that the panel listened to the concerns of students and others in higher education,” he said. “This is an important early step in the legislative process that will decide the fate of Cal Grants."

The state Senate also must vote on the governor’s proposals, and finance department spokesman H.D. Palmer said Brown is intent on pushing for the cuts, which Brother Ronald has said would affect 660 students at Saint Mary’s and cost the College more than $3 million in much-needed aid.

"Why are we talking about (cutting) a program that is successful and helping students in tough economic times?” Assemblymember Sandré Swanson, D-Alameda, asked before casting her vote against the governor’s plan.

On Wednesday, students from all over the state descended on Sacramento for the annual Cal Grant Lobby Day and urged their state assembly members and senators to save the aid program. Vice President for Enrollment Michael Beseda, Director of Community and Government Relations Tim Farley and Financial Aid Director Priscilla Muha led a group of nine students from Saint Mary's.

Karen Pedrazza ’16 told Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) that she had grown up as the daughter of migrant farm workers. “I attended 10 schools by the time I was in eighth grade. Yet I was able to maintain a 4.0 GPA through high school,” she said. “The Cal Grant has allowed me to attend Saint Mary’s.”

Shannon Daley ’13 explained how her college fund, which was mostly invested in her father’s company portfolio, was wiped out when the company closed. “Cal Grant made it possible for me to go to Saint Mary’s. It’s that simple,” Daley told Skinner.

The governor’s proposals target low-income students at private universities, who receive up to $9,708 in Cal Grant funds to help them pay for school. One provision would cut the grant for students at for-profit, private schools to $4,000. Students at nonprofit, private schools, would get the same grant that California State University students receive - currently a maximum of $5,472. The cuts would affect 45,700 students statewide. Another provision would raise the minimum grade-point average needed to qualify for a Cal Grant. About 26,600 students would lose funds under the new qualifying levels.

Want to help save Cal Grant funding? Learn what you can do.

By Teresa Castle
Office of College Communications