Free Tuition Obstructed by Mayor

By Otto Pippenger   

Jane Kim secures a victory for all San Francisco residents, coming to an agreement with Mayor Ed Lee for up to a 20 percent increase in enrollment in next year’s budget, additional assistance for students already receiving financial aid, and additional cash assistance to students enrolled in six units or more.

The taxes raised by Proposition W, the property sale tax San Francisco voters passed in November 2016, were intended to pay for free tuition for City College. The program, meant to begin in August 2017, was thought to be pushed back in light of the Mayor’s unexpectedly small budget offer until at least early 2018.

On Feb. 2, Mayor Lee along with the Board of Supervisors, struck the agreement to spend $5.4 million to provide access in the form of tuition and books for low-income students.

On Dec.13, 2016 Mayor Lee offered the college $500,000 for the year of 2017, and a further $4.5 million for the next three years. According to City College spokesman Jeff Hamilton,  that would cover the cost of updating the school’s systems to accommodate the new plan. By the school’s estimate, that would have been at  least $14 million shy to pay for the roughly 35,000 credit students not already on Board of Governors Fee Waivers (BOG) fee waiver.

Prop W is expected to generate ten to $54 million with an annual average of $45 million. Ballot measures can not specify how the money is to be spent, though the Proponent’s Argument that appeared with it on the ballot associated it clearly with the July 2016 Board of Supervisor’s resolution for free City College that introduced the campaign into the City’s legislative agenda.

The proceeds are deposited into the City’s General Fund, of which the Mayor has offered $9 million to cover City College tuition, as well as homeless care and possibly other usages.

City College Trustee, Tom Temprano, argued against the Mayor’s decision saying, “in every conceivable way it was made clear that (free tuition) was what W was for- in every bit of public,

private, media discussion, both the proponents and opponents tied it to free City College, as did the public.”

Temprano described the shared budget as “a Sophie’s Choice, and false at that… W generates so much money but Lee is trying to say we can only have one or the other.”

American Federation of Teachers Local 2121 (AFT 2121) Political Director, Alisa Messer said, “it’s unclear who we have to share it with- Prop W will bring in more than enough for us and we knew that, and felt proud of it. To then decide that maybe a tenth of that will go to the program is stunning.”

Members of the Board of Supervisors, Board of Trustees, and City College community have continued to fight against the mayor’s current offer.

Prop W proponent and leader of the free tuition campaign on the Board of Supervisors Jane Kim and City College Trustee Rafael Mandelman passed a resolution in favor of full funding of a free City College at Jan. 25, 2017 San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee meeting.

Temprano, who helped draft the resolution said, “both of our assembly members, senator, Democratic Party, and ten of eleven supervisors have told the mayor to approve this- it’s now about hoping the mayor will do the right thing.”

AFT 2121 had collected postcards from students to send to the mayor urging him to reconsider, likely adding to the turn around. “We plan to keep the pressure up on the mayor. Our impression is that he doesn’t have a lot of support on this,” said Messer.

When asked about the future of the campaign, Temprano said, “I’m going to fight. It’s more difficult to take something away than to create it, and when we succeed in three years and have 100,000 students enrolled for free, no one will be able to take it away.”


The Guardsman