Grassroots ballot initiative set to make California colleges free
by Ramon Solis
Higher education in California just might be easier to reach. A group of high school students from two Oakland high schools have started a ballot initiative to make undergraduate tuition free at the University of California and the California State University. To qualify, undergraduate students must maintain at least a 2.7 GPA or commit 70 hours of community service.
The initiative would increase taxes on those making $250,000 or more from 9.3 to 10 percent. Taxes on those making over $500,000 would also increase from 9.3 to 11 percent.
The idea was conceived in the spring of 2010 through student debates held separately at Unity High School and Life Academy, two public high schools in Oakland. Their discussion of free public education in Europe and the rising cost of education led the students to thinking about potential solutions. In order to engage these students further, Rich Boettner, a debate facilitator and Life Academy math teacher asked, “Why don’t we in the government class get the students involved and actually try to write a ballot initiative?” Both high school classes consolidated their ideas, and now their proposal has become a statewide affair, spearheaded by a group called College for California.
Kara Duros, a social studies teacher at Unity High, and co-coordinator of the initiative said that the students who made the proposal were working in the spirit of the original vision of the UC Regents, which included the “principle of tuition-free education to residents of the state” according to the California Master Plan for Higher Education.
The signature-gathering effort would be entirely by volunteer, heavily reliant on the assistance of college and high school students, according to Duros.
Patsy, a high school student from Unity High with intentions of pursuing a UC education, is one of countless students who face the onslaught of cuts to higher education. Her father is unemployed. “The most stressful thing right now is how I’m gonna pay for it. [My parents] can’t afford it,” said Patsy.
But people like Patsy will be soliciting signatures by June 18 to get this initiative on the ballot. The campaign will require 807,615 signatures of registered California voters. That number is eight percent of the number of votes cast for the last gubernatorial election.
Considering the ballot initiatives have just began last week, Dianne Klein, spokesperson for the UC Office of the President, said that any official response from the central UC office is “really premature.” It’s very difficult for Californians to approve tax changes in California, said Klein, but “even if it doesn’t succeed, it will get people thinking,” she added.
Other ballot initiatives to fund public education exist, most notably Governor Jerry Brown’s. Brown has also proposed increasing taxes on annual earnings over $250,000 for five years as well as an increase in sales and use taxes for four years. 89% of the collected revenue would fund K-12 schools and eleven percent would go to community colleges.
To learn more about the ballot initiative, visit www.collegeforcalifornia.org.
Ramon Solis writes true stories. He can be reached at news [at] kdvs [dot] org