Free City College a reality

By Diane Carter

Last November San Francisco residents voted to approve Supervisors Jane Kim and Norman Yee’s ballot measure, Proposition W, making “Free City College” a reality.

Proposition W has helped City College recoup funds that were lost when one-third of the student population left during the accreditation crisis. City College is well on its way to restored enrollment.

 As of the current semester there is an approximate increase in enrollment in the first tuition-free semester at City College of 17 percent when compared with last year’s data. There is also a 25.5 percent increase in enrollment in credit courses that have been funded by city officials from the transfer tax.

The college would boost its state funding with more students enrolled as full time equivalent learners.  Note, such a category of learners is used to fund community colleges in California thus more full time equivalent students equal more state revenue allocated.

“W” proposed an increase in the real estate transfer tax on properties in San Francisco selling for more than $5 million, also known as luxury properties.

According to the Controller’s analysis Prop W is likely to generate an average of $45 million for the city without harming the poor, indigent and working class residents.  

However, funding sourced from tax revenue fluctuate with economic cycles and cannot be set forth with certainty. New revenue will vary annually according to changes in the real estate market.

Supporters and organizations affiliated with San Francisco City College and the San Francisco Unified School District, including the City College Board of Trustees, lobbied for the use of the new revenue for making higher education accessible for all San Francisco residents who were also residents of California and/or eligible for consideration under state assembly bills to qualify as city and state residents.

By allocating some of the transfer tax money in this manner the educators would guarantee that City College enrollment would return to normal or to numbers equal to the numbers of students enrolled before the accreditation crisis. A total allocation of $1 million was made to “Free City” by members of the Board of Supervisors of San Francisco. Also, Mayor Ed Lee allocated $5.4 million for free tuition and books for low income students. Over the next two fiscal years $10.8 million will be allocated of which  $2.1 million will be designated to free tuition and $3.3 million will be used to defer some student expense for low income students.

While fiscal analysts estimate  an annual average of $45 million dollars will  be collected, the remaining money is not specifically designated to a particular use. City Hall is left  to decide how to allocate funds. Mayor Lee and some other supporters argue  that the money could be better used for homeless shelters, individuals with disabilities, and families with children. However, City College’s proponents contended that enough funds would be raised for City College and others without conflict.

Our faculty, the teachers union and Supervisors David Campos, Aaron Peskin, Norman Yee, and Jane Kim successfully lobbied the Board of Supervisors to allocate funds from the real estate transfer tax making “Free City College” a top priority for the new funds.

According to City College Trustee Tom Temprano, the transfer tax is successful because, “We (have) honored the will of San Francisco voters…to restore City College enrollment to pre-accreditation enrollment status.”

Though “Free City” has been mostly a positive program, there are certain students who lose under this policy. The students who do not benefit include, international students who do not intend to be permanent California residents and low income students whose grants have been reduced to $500 for full time students and $200 for part-time students. Students with residences in other cities in California are also excluded from the Free City program.

Although most politicians in San Francisco are satisfied with what has been done with the Free City program, not everyone is on board. Alisa Messer of the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121 union, acknowledges the victory but states that the faculty is disappointed with the funding for textbooks. Funding for low income students to buy books is restricted, a valid concern considering that books for academic subjects may cost over $200.   

With the ever increasing complexity of the job market nationally, San Francisco has shown a willingness to start thinking of education for today’s emerging economic needs. This being said, it is incumbent on state and national leaders to recognize that a community college education is not optional but necessarily mandatory for anyone entering the workforce.  It is not possible to obtain a Tesla job with the same skills that you would need to work on Henry Ford’s Model T assembly line.    

Time is creating ever more complicated demands upon the youth of today. A better, and more affordable education is needed by all. There is also a need to develop solid reskilling training programs for individuals who have lost jobs due to technological changes. These people need new high paying professional jobs to maintain their families.

Programs to provide a free two-year community college education in all states of the United States must be pursued at both the state and federal political levels. The amount of capital for education must be a funding priority nationally. It is not sufficient to rely on local taxes to continue to fund two year colleges. A wider revenue base is needed to continue to accomplish full national community college education in the United States.

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