When CUNY students began describing how their education has been stalled by lack of available classes, they got Cleveland Beckett’s attention.
Beckett, chief of staff for Councilmember Larry Seabrook, met with the students as part of the PSC’s annual “CUNY at the Council” effort on May 11, a day of grassroots lobbying on the City budget. After talking for a while about budget numbers, students and PSC members began to talk about the impact of budget cuts in more personal terms.
Students explained that a lack of sections for required classes often means they can’t take the courses they need to move forward in their major or otherwise progress toward their degrees. Some get discouraged and drop out rather than take electives they don’t need. Delays in availability of key courses can also lead to students’ TAP assistance running out before they graduate.
David Rosenberg, a biology major at Brooklyn College, told Beckett that he had been unable to get a required chemistry course in either the Fall or Spring semesters. Instead, he will take the class this summer and pay $1,200 out of his own pocket, since his financial aid cannot be used for summer study.
“That’s the first time I heard about this reality,” said Beckett. “You brought it home,” he told Rosenberg at the end of the meeting. “It’s shocking to hear that this is happening to students.”
Rosenberg took the opportunity to explain to Beckett that TAP money is now available only to students taking at least 15 credit hours per semester, a difficult burden for students, many who have to work. When Beckett asked why the State would adopt this policy, Rosenberg responded that it was essentially a backdoor way for Albany to cut spending for financial aid.
Beckett shook his head again. “It’s hard to have a learned community when you’re cutting the safety net out from under people,” he said.
“Austerity isn’t inevitable,” PSC member Eileen Moran told Beckett. “It’s a political choice, and I hope you will fight for these kids.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s budget proposal would create a $52.6 million hole in CUNY’s community college operating budget. The six community colleges would receive about $26.7 million less in total, or approximately 10% less than the budget adopted last July, for the current fiscal year. Along with this direct funding decrease, the mayor’s proposal fails to fund another $25.9 million in mandatory expense increases – rising costs due to inflation, enrollment growth and programmatic expansion. For example, Bloomberg’s budget authorizes funding for CUNY’s new community college, but cuts the overall base budget for existing community colleges.
The mayor proposes slashing funding for a number of Council-supported programs to zero, including the Vallone Scholarships, Safety Net financial aid program, Black Male Initiative, Murphy Institute for Worker Education, Center for Puerto Rican Studies, the Dominican Studies Institute, and Creative Arts Team. The PSC is urging the Council to restore $19.6 million to fund these programs to 2009 levels.
Meanwhile the State’s adopted budget cuts base aid for CUNY community colleges by $12.3 million. The PSC is pushing for the City to make up for this lost aid, and for City support for the community colleges’ capital budget.
Forty-six percent of students at CUNY community colleges come from households with annual incomes of $20,000 or less. Students of color make up 81% of the student body, while 38% speak a native language other than English.
“It’s unfair for New York to expect its most vulnerable students to pick up the tab on lower taxes for the wealthy,” said PSC First Vice President Steve London. “The mayor and the City Council should support closing hedge fund tax loopholes and increasing top marginal personal income tax rates to fund CUNY, so that students can get the education they deserve. The choice is clear: close tax loopholes on the hedge funds or deny opportunity to the City’s hardest-working students.”
Although the mayor has so far refused to support such fair-tax measures that would raise additional revenue, City tax revenue is nonetheless projected to be $2 billion higher than originally estimated for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 and 2012.
“It’s unconscionable that the Mayor would subject New York’s community college students to such cuts at a time when City revenues are growing and there are fairer ways of balancing the budget,” PSC President Barbara Bowen said.
The City’s budget deadline is July 1. To send a message to your councilmember, click here.
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