California voters on Tuesday rejected -- by a wide margin -- a controversial measure that would have set aside a specific share of state appropriations for community colleges and cut tuition at two-year institutions.
With more than 60 percent of precincts reporting, the measure was attracting only about 41 percent of the vote.
"Obviously, we are disappointed by the decision of California's voters," Scott Lay, president and chief executive officer of the Community College League of California, which worked on behalf of the measure, said via e-mail early this morning. California's deteriorating budget outlook hurt the effort, he said.
"Clearly, when we started this campaign three and a half years ago, we couldn't foresee the incredibly difficult budget situation that has developed. We will work with our strong coalition, and those that didn't support us, to find a solution that will provide access to an affordable higher education for every Californian," Lay said.
Proposition 92, as the measure is called, is the latest in a series of California ballot questions designed to shape how the state spends its funds. Supporters of these measures (as was the case with this one) cite the importance of setting aside a share of the state budget for particularly crucial agencies or services. But critics see the measures hurting other, equally vital state services (including much of higher education) by making everything not covered by a special measure compete for a smaller and smaller slice of the budget pie. Because much of the state budget in California (as elsewhere) is set aside for required spending, higher education tends to be particularly fearful of the impact of more budget set-asides -- however worthy the set-aside.
As a result of these tensions, Proposition 92 won the backing of many community college advocates, but was opposed by many public university leaders.
Supporters of the measure noted that California's community college system -- the nation's largest higher education system -- served many low-income, minority students who can be discouraged from enrolling by large classes, closed sections and even seemingly modest tuition increases. Supporters provided plenty of stories -- not contested by others in higher education -- of the need for more state support and more stable state support for community colleges.
But critics -- within higher education and elsewhere -- focused on the impact the measure would have had on the rest of the state budget. A resolution from the University of California Board of Regents, for example, expressed strong support for the mission of community colleges, but opposed Proposition 92.
"Proposition 92 requires more state funding and reduces student fees for one segment of higher education without regard to the needs of all of higher education. Since it does not create or identify any new revenue sources, unprotected state programs such as UC and CSU would be competing for a smaller share of available general funds," the resolution said. "Passage of Proposition 92 could result in a reduction in the university’s state-funded budget, which in turn could result in an erosion of university programs and services. It would limit fee increases for one segment of higher education while potentially increasing pressure to raise fees even further at UC and CSU to make up for unavailable general funds."
In some California counties, voters were also deciding on bond measures to support facilities at community colleges. While results were not final as of 1 a.m. California time Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times reported that the two largest measures -- $500 million for the San Bernardino Community College District and $440 million for the Long Beach Community College District -- appeared to be passing.
But the Napa Valley Register reported that Napa Valley College's $178 million bond measure was being defeated, based on early returns.