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Assembly panel rejects Brown's cuts in college aid

March 7, 2012 |  7:41 pm

An Assembly subcommittee on Wednesday rejected Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to trim state-funded college scholarships known as CalGrants, two days after thousands protested budget cuts at the Capitol.

Students packed the hearing in opposition to the cuts, which lawmakers said could "disenfranchise" those seeking college degrees.

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Martinez), who chairs the education finance subcommittee, said the vote is a signal to Brown to "go back and find the cuts somewhere else. We're drawing a line."

The 4-0 vote was the second time the governor's budget proposals have proved dead on arrival in the Assembly. Last week a different subcommittee voted down Brown's proposed cuts to CalWORKs, the state welfare program.

Brown is seeking a $348-million cut to higher education in his new spending plan, largely through reducing financial aid. His proposals include lowering the maximum awards for students attending private colleges and increasing the minimum grade-point average requirement for incoming students. A budget analyst from Brown's Department of Finance said the cuts are necessary to focus "very limited and very precious" resources on students most likely to graduate.

In what some lawmakers cited as a troubling cycle, Brown wants to cut CalGrants because they have become increasingly expensive to match rising tuition costs -- which are the result of different budget cuts. Three Democrats and one Republican voted to reject the two proposals.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for Brown's Department of Finance, pointed out that lawmakers will need to find the savings elsewhere to balance the budget.

Brown's plan to raise the GPA requirement, which would save an estimated $131 million by disqualifying 26,600 students, has brought the most criticism. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has blasted the proposal as shortsighted, saying it places the "burden of our fiscal problems on the very students who will help lead California out of this morass.” The Legislative Analyst's Office urged lawmakers to pursue a less stringent change.

Colleges have been a frequent target for budget cuts during the recession, and tuition has risen sharply in recent years. On Monday, thousands of students and activists marched on the Capitol to protest reductions in higher education spending, and top Democrats pledged to make college more affordable.

Shawna Reynolds, a sociology student at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, said she wouldn't have been able to enter a college classroom without her CalGrant.

"I worked really hard to get here at the age I'm at," said Reynolds, 43. "I don't want to stop now."

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento

On Twitter at @chrismegerian

RELATED:

Activists protest tuition hikes at Capitol

Thousands march to protest college funding cuts

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