Free City initiative awaits public vote

Tuition-free proposal will be on the November ballot

By Cassie Ordonio and Teddy Luther

After going through numerous rounds of voting, Supervisor Jane Kim’s Free City proposal is one step closer to giving the majority of City College students a tuition-free education for the first time since 1983.

Kim introduced the bill in April. On July 12, the SF Board of Supervisors approved its progression to the ballot in a 10-1 vote, with Supervisor Mark Farrell the lone dissenter.

The day before the vote, chants for Free City College echoed throughout San Francisco’s City Hall as City College’s teachers union (AFT 2121) teamed with student and alumni supporters to march through each Board of Supervisor’s office.

“Having Free City would mean more money could be saved for the future and go towards living expenses,” City College student Win-Mon Kyi said.

The proposal would ensure free tuition for all San Francisco residents, as well as those who work at least half-time in the City. Per 2015 enrollment estimates, that would cover more than 80 percent of the City College student body.

The proposal is two-fold. What will be presented to voters in November is an increase in the real estate transfer tax for properties valued at $5 million or more.

This tax increase would legally go into the city’s general fund. The second part of the proposal states that the Board of Supervisors intends to use the newly generated tax funds to make City College tuition-free.

If approved, the recently named Proposition W will generate an estimated $40 million annually. City College officials estimate that fully funding the Free City proposal would cost an average of $13 million per year. This number could increase if the college’s enrollment stabilizes.

“Sadly, some people in San Francisco still think City College is closed or is about to close,” AFT 2121 member Alisa Messer said. “When San Francisco makes the college free, it will be clear that the city has wrapped its arms around City College. I think this will provide a very public vote of confidence for our college and all it does for our community.”

After battling the accreditation crisis in 2013 and 2014, AFT 2121 members are hoping a tuition-free college will boost enrollment.

“It’s one of our highest priorities for the upcoming elections,” AFT 2121 President Tim Killikelly said, referring to Proposition W. “We think the plan we’ve come up with serves the needs of all groups in our community.”

AFT 2121 is collaborating with approximately 100 organizations, including students and prominent community members, in support of the ballot measure. City College’s Board of Trustees has announced its full support of Proposition W as well.

Board of Trustees member Amy Bachrach believes Free City would build on her vision of a San Francisco “where our budgets reflect our priorities.”

City College units are $46 each, totaling up to $1,000 per year for a full-time student. The proposal intends to eliminate all tuition costs.

For those students whose tuition is already covered by financial aid, Free City would offer additional financial support (up to $1000 per year) for costs such as textbooks, supplies and transportation.
“Having Free City means I can take more classes that can further enrich my learning experience,” Kyi said. “I can take classes I’ve always wanted to take, but put aside for later because of prioritizing the classes for my major.”