California community colleges warn of ballooning budget gap
California’s community colleges, already suffering from steep funding cuts, are facing a yawning hole in their budgets this year.
The Community College League of California said Tuesday that plummeting revenue from student fees and a dip in property tax revenue has created a $149-million deficit.
The bad news comes as the colleges are coping with $415 million in state budget cuts this year.
Scott Lay, head of the community college league, said the state usually ponies up extra funds when student fees and property taxes don’t pull in as much money as expected.
“A strong signal from the Legislature that they intend to backfill this will enable the colleges to maintain summer school and not reduce services,” he said. “They need to know the state will stand behind its budget promises.”
H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown's Department of Finance, said gloomy predictions are premature. He said the Community College League made similar dire predictions last year, but property taxes eventually covered the shortfall.
This year, Lay said, the situation has been exacerbated because the drop in student fee revenue is about 10 times worse than usual, coming in at around $106 million.
Lay said state budget cuts have reduced enrollment and fee increases have driven other students away. He also said an increasing number of students are qualifying for fee waivers, putting another dent in revenue.
More than 60% of students are receiving fee waivers now, according to the Department of Finance, That's an increase from about 45% in the 2008-09 school year.
-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento
Photo: Students work on a class project at Southwest College in Los Angeles. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times