Wednesday, September 03, 2014
   
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California Aggie: Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez announces the Middle Class Scholarship

Muna Sadek

Under a proposed bill by California Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, beginning this fall, California students from middle-income families would receive significant tuition breaks that can amount to annual savings of $8,100 for University of California students and $4,000 for California State University students.

Announced on Feb. 8, the new bill would mean that current and new undergraduate students from families with a household income of $150,000 or less would be guaranteed a deduction in their school fees by two-thirds.

This is estimated to cover about 42,000 UC students and 150,000 CSU students during all four years of schooling.

The Middle Class Scholarship would be integral in addressing ongoing tuition hikes and cuts in programs such as Cal Grant, which now primarily caters to families of working-class income, leaving few options for middle class families.

"There are a lot of people in the state that are fortunate enough to pay for their kids' education out of pocket and there are a lot of people who come from a low income background and work their way through high school ... and [are] ensured places in our CSU and UC system through Cal Grant," said Spokesperson to Pérez, John Vigna.

"Cal Grant, like everything else, has been cut and it's hurt some and it is middle class students who have been hurt a lot because of these fee hikes."

With the collapse of the California economy in 2008, college enrollment is accompanied with an egregious amount of debt for students carried on after graduation.

"A student that graduates from college is not looking for the job with the best potential more than a job that will help them pay off way too much debt… A student carrying $25,000 in debt is going to spend an entire decade paying that off… that is simply not feasible for some families," Vigna said.

The program is estimated to cost California $1 billion annually, which would be funded through closing the selected sales factor loophole which allows out-of-state corporations to choose the smaller of two tax breaks on how to calculate taxes that go to the state.

This elimination was part of a 2009 budget deal that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger elicited from Democrats in 2009. The termination of the Cal Grant was also proposed.

"He created this loophole and we want to close it and bring California tax policy in line with states like New York, New Jersey and Texas," Vigna said.

A dedicated fund in the treasurer's office would in turn be established, which will accumulate approximately $1 billion a year.

Last year Gov. Jerry Brown attempted to eliminate the single sales factor. It garnered two Republican votes and passed the Senate.

Sam Mahood is a senior political science and communication double major at UC Davis who has worked with Vigna as the immediate past president of the Davis College Democrats and has served on the California College Democrats' state-wide board. He said the plan is relevant to college students today as it addresses the burden put on middle class students and their families by the rising costs of college.

"Middle class students and their families often don't qualify for financial aid, but still struggle with the burden that the cost of college places on them. Multiple child families, such as mine, are particularly hit with this issue," Mahood said.

Because the bill will require two-thirds of the state legislature to approve it, Mahood encouraged students and their families to contact their representatives and urge them to support this legislation and join groups, such as Davis College Democrats, that will be advocating and lobbying directly on behalf of the bill, as well as urging ASUCD and Lobby Corps to support this legislation on behalf of UC Davis students.

"It is key that elected officials feel the pressure from their constituents to pass the plan," Mahood said.

ASUCD president Adam Thongsavat, who met with Pérez recently and was present during his announcement of the Middle Class Scholarship, said students should not fail in pushing to get the bill passed.

"If we fail to act and mobilize — we collectively pass up a great opportunity to help future students. We need to put pressure on Sacramento and let them know higher education affordability is in crisis and this will slowly reserve that course in the right direction," Thongsavat said. "Students need to fully mobilize behind this bill; it's a great opportunity to flex our muscles and support legislation that will actually alleviate the burden of college tuition for a lot of families."

The plan, which has not been popular among Republicans, seems to be gaining popularity, according to Vigna.

"We believe this isn't really about a tax increase; it's about tax fairness and using money from a giveaway to benefit California's middle class, which ultimately benefits all of California. We're pretty confident that we'll get the Republican votes we need to get it passed in both the assembly and the senate… this is just quite frankly a no-brainer for middle class families," Vigna said.

For many, the scholarship is said to be the determining factor in the decision to progress toward higher education, being that college is not a possibility for all families.

"It really addresses a huge need for support for these families so that students stay in college and also choose to go to college in the first place when their weighing their options," said University of California Student Association (UCSA) president Claudia Magaña.

She encouraged students to start on their own campuses.

"Educate more students on what this bill does so that more people are aware," Magaña said.

The UCSA, a student-run organization that aims to improve the quality and accessibility of the UC, will hold its 10th annual Student Lobby Conference in Sacramento on March 2 to March 5.

"[It will include] students from every UC campus, meeting with every legislator in the whole state, so we are going to be telling them this," Magaña said.

This plan, if passed, is expected to make a dramatic reinvestment in the middle class, according to Vigna.

"Every student from the time they go into kindergarten are told that a college education opens the doors of opportunity… for you to have a successful and prosperous life and we have seen the last several years really undermine that commitment and [Perez] believes that it's time we reaffirm that commitment and start reinvesting back in the middle class."

Vigna encourages all students to go online to get involved in the bills' passing.

"The website has a place where they can upload their own videos talking about some of the difficult choices they had to make to go to college and get them to share their story, and we would love to have every student in the state go there," he said.

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