Twelve hours after leaving UC Santa Cruz, the caravan of student government officers and interns prepared to leave Sacramento behind. Hundreds of UC, CSU, and California Community College system (CCC) students filed out of the Capitol Building, clinging to the hope that legislators might heed their testimonies.
“What is at stake here,” UCSC Student Union Assembly (SUA) external vice chair Victor Sanchez said to the budget committee, “is more than the future of our system of higher education, but that of the state of California.”
This public hearing, during which the public was allotted time to address a special budget committee, was scheduled in response to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent budget proposal.
The proposed statewide cuts would cut academic preparation programs; slash UC, CSU and CCC budgets; eliminate the Cal Grant; cut subsidized child care programs; release nonviolent prisoners one year early; eliminate the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids Program; shut down 80 percent of California’s state parks and beaches; and reduce or eliminate various public healthcare programs.
Originally scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. with comments from advocates of public healthcare for children, the hearing ran several hours late. Students and employees of California higher education systems formed a line obstructing any walking room in the halls outside the hearing facility.
Of 11 UCSC SUA members present at the Sacramento hearing, only two had the chance to deliver their personal stories and pleas to the committee.
UCLA student government representatives drove to Sacramento the night before the hearing to have their chance at the podium. Only one of the four who made it was able to address the budget committee.
UC San Diego students who flew up for the hearing chose to reschedule their flight home to accommodate the scheduling delays, only to ultimately miss the hearing when student testimonies were delayed until late into the 4 p.m. hour.
The chancellors of the CSU and CCC systems and UC President Mark Yudof addressed the committee before students entered the chamber.
Yudof attempted to convince Chairwoman Noreen Evans, of the 7th Assembly District located near Napa, of the importance of protecting Cal Grants and warned against the overarching implications of such a budget cut.
“This will be, in many ways, an unraveling of a master plan in terms of access research and all the rest of what went into that great master plan that California adopted about 50 years ago,” he said, referring to the establishment of the California Master Plan for Higher Education (CMPHE).
The CMPHE was developed in 1960 by a survey team organized by the UC regents and the California Board of Education. Its goal was to define the objectives of the UC, CSU and CCC and establish the admissions standards to be used throughout the UC system. Additionally, the CMPHE established that every Californian is entitled to higher education regardless of economic standing.
This focus on accessibility to higher education for all Californians was central in Yudof’s argument against the cuts.
“The hardest hit is on the low-income families, with [annual earnings] under $60,000,” he said. “That’s just the reality of it.”
UCSC SUA treasurer Eric Piccolotti is a second-year feminist studies major affiliated with College Ten. He was one of several students denied the opportunity to speak at the budget hearing due to time restrictions.
Piccolotti said he trekked to Sacramento because Cal Grants and curricular diversity are important to him, and he fears the implications of the proposed budget cuts to these areas.
“Education is a right for all Californians,” Piccolotti said. “These budget cuts are infringing upon that right.”
Olgalilia Ramirez is the director of the Office of Governmental Relations for the California State Student Association (CSSA) and an alumna of CSU Sacramento. She attended the budget hearing as a liaison for CSU students.
“It’s important that students give their story, because they’re the only ones that can give that story and that is very valuable for the community to hear,” she said. “[It is also important] to get across the message that investing in students is an investment in California’s future economy and also our present economy.”
Ramirez and Clais Daniels-Edwards, the legislative director of UC Students Association (UCSA), collaborated to organize students present at the hearing.
As an indication of solidarity between California public higher education institutions, students wore yellow bands on their wrists, which they raised every time a fellow student said “California” during their testimony.
Callin Curry, a UCSC first-year and SUA intern, relayed his personal story to the committee.
With the proposed elimination of Cal Grants, and having come out of the California foster care system without family to help him cover the costs of a university education, Curry faces an ominous future.
“With the government’s current proposal, a dream 19 years in the making [of attending a four-year university] is slowly being destroyed,” Curry said. “I have protested as I have watched higher education take those devastating cuts, with affordability and access decreasing exponentially. This current situation is one of the biggest threats to education.”