Wednesday, September 23, 2009


By Matt Krupnick | Contra Costa Times

Updated: 09/23/2009 04:54:56 PM PDT -- California's community colleges will receive far less federal money than had been expected, meaning the 110-school system will have to make deep cuts in student services.

The Legislature had planned on receiving $130 million in stimulus money to help restore money cut from the two-year schools' budgets. But the funds were based on the state's 2008 budget, which spared community colleges serious reductions.

The colleges will instead receive $35 million this fall, with an additional $4 million likely in coming months. Although the total will cover most or all of last year's cut, it will not come close to helping the system deal with this year's $520 million reduction.

The federal money was meant to help states recover from education cuts through the 2011 budget year, but California's allotment will be used up this year because of the state's massive 2008 budget cuts, said Kathy Gaither, California's undersecretary for education.

Community college leaders had hoped the stimulus money would help them avoid steep cuts in programs for low-income and disabled students. But the shortfall means services for needy students, such as Extended Opportunity Programs and Services, or EOPS, will be trimmed dramatically, said Erik Skinner, vice chancellor for fiscal policy for the state community college office.

"Our cuts are even deeper than we had understood," he said. "This is a messy and conflicted budget."

It was not clear why lawmakers and college leaders thought they would receive more money.

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge, said Wednesday he planned to ask federal officials what happened. He said he did not know why the Legislature assumed community colleges would get $130 million.

"To my knowledge, there has not been much explanation," said Portantino, chairman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee. "At a time when the president is making a push for community colleges, I think it's important to provide for them."

With enrollment at record levels in the approximately 3 million-student system, and with no additional state money expected next year, college leaders have limited options for keeping programs alive, said Scott Lay, president of the Community College League of California, which lobbies for the system.

"Colleges are doing everything they can to maintain services, but reserves are being exhausted quickly," he said.

Unlike the community colleges, state universities — which were cut much more last year — will receive hefty amounts from the federal government. The University of California and California State University systems will each get $717 million, as well as an additional $80 million each once the state applies for the final portion.

All three systems have received other funds for science or job training from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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