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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Problems worth having

Today I want to put on my 'ed policy researcher' hat, because really, what's the fun of having a blog if you can't get political once in a while? An editorial in today's Sacramento Bee advocates for SB 890 (Scott), a bill that would create "college opportunity zones" in school districts with high proportions of low-income students. The idea is middle-school students pledge to take appropriate coursework, graduate from high school, file for financial aid and enroll in college. If they keep their pledge and continue to show financial need, the state guarantees them a community college fee waiver (under an existing, but under-utilized, program). The cost to administer the Opportunity Zones is fairly small and will be incurred mostly by the Department of Ed who have said they are happy to absorb it into their current budget. The cost of the actual fee waivers will depend on how many students are eligible but could potentially be large, and that is why the bill is held up in Assembly Appropriations.

So what prompted me to write this blog post was a question the Bee editors ask:
... others are concerned that increasing college-going rates among lower-income students might put cost pressure on community colleges, since lower-income students qualify for fee waivers.

Isn't more kids going to college a problem worth having?
Exactly. The whole point is to reach more students who would otherwise be at high risk of dropping out and get them to complete high school and go at least to community college. And this is considered a problem?!?

Unfortunately, this type of thinking doesn't seem uncommon in Sacramento. Another 'are you kidding me?' moment arose during the spring when I was working on a bill that included increasing the transparency of school-level financial data (i.e., we want schools to report how much they spend on different types of students). A staffer-who-shall-not-be-named basically said he was concerned about this part of the bill because reports of spending disparities within districts could lead to local grassroots reform efforts for more equality. Uh, yeah, and the problem with that is...?

Of course, no politician can say they are opposed to increased transparency or to kids going to college, so I sort of get that these statements are about trying to focus on the costs instead of the benefits. What I don't understand is why these people act like the outcomes that will cause the increased costs aren't the whole objective in the first place.

OK, back to things I can control (or think I can) tomorrow...


  1. It seems clear that the program waives tuition for low-income students who sign up for the program and do their part. But what happens to the revenue stream to the CC's? Do they receive more than just the per student or credit hour funding from the state? Or is the waived tuition made up from a central (statewide) fund? Or do the CC's, in effect, have to provide additional sectios for additional students with little or no additional funding? Inquiring minds want to know.

  2. I believe the waived tuition is made up from the general fund (which is why it's being held in Appropriations - the future 'cost pressure' could be high). CCs' funding from the state is based on enrollment but you're right to be curious - if there were a big increase in CC enrollments, it certainly isn't guaranteed that the state would fully fund the added costs.


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