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Jerry Brown budget proposal threatens Middle Class Scholarship

The scholarship is used by many CSULB students to afford tuition.

Junior+business+economics+major+Erlin+Martinez+waits+in+line+at+the+Financial+Aid+office+window+Monday.
Junior business economics major Erlin Martinez waits in line at the Financial Aid office window Monday.

Junior business economics major Erlin Martinez waits in line at the Financial Aid office window Monday.

Jade Ingala

Jade Ingala

Junior business economics major Erlin Martinez waits in line at the Financial Aid office window Monday.

Lola Olvera, Staff Writer

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The Middle Class Scholarship may face funding cuts due to a proposal by California Governor Jerry Brown, potentially affecting 46,000 University of California and California State University students.

The MCS was meant to provide financial aid to California undergraduate students who do not qualify for low-income based aid. The scholarship is available for students with a family income between $104,001 and $156,000 a year, according to the California Student Aid Commission.

During the 2016-2017 academic year, 3,135 students at California State University benefitted from the MCS, according to the California Student Aid Commission. Other CSU campuses whose students rely heavily on MCS are Cal State Northridge and Cal State Fullerton, with 3,289 and 3,060 MCS recipients, respectively.

In determining a student’s award, need-based federal, state and institutional grants are considered first. Other factors considered include family income, the number of students eligible for the scholarship and the amount of funding the state budget has made available.

Brown’s proposal to defund MCS was part of his higher education budget proposals for 2017-2018, which he announced in January. A proposal to raise tuition costs for UC’s and CSU’s was also announced at the time.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who represents the Southeast L.A. County District of California, spoke out against terminating the scholarship program on Twitter.

“Ending the Middle Class Scholarship would increase the cost of a four-year by up to $9,000 at CSU and up to $20,000 at UC,” he wrote.

The MCS Act was considered in 2011 and 2012, originally consisting of two parts. Assembly Bill 1501, which created the scholarship program, was voted for by both Democrats and Republicans. AB 1500 determined the program’s source for funds: taxing multi-state businesses the same as California businesses to raise $1 billion per year.

Tim Donnelly, member of the California State Assembly, criticized AB 1500 back in 2012. “We are literally investing in education and there aren’t going to be any jobs for these kids because we keep driving businesses out of the state with unfriendly policies,” he said during the Assembly debate.

This year, California faces a $1.6 million billion deficit. According to Brown, California tax revenue growth hasn’t been as strong as experts had expected; cutting funds for MCS is an attempt to eliminate the state budget gap. Students already benefiting from the MCS can count on their financial aid until they graduate, though.

Brown adds that despite cutting MCS, CalGrants financial aid will remain available to low-income students. Some opponents of the MCS argue that it is low-income students who need the financial aid the most, while proponents say that income alone does not determine a student’s financial need.

“It’s a case of [trying] to meet everybody’s needs,” said CSULB Director of Financial Aid Nick Valdivia, of the debate over where to allocate state funds.

Some are hopeful that the end of the MCS will mean a redirection of more funds towards low-income based financial aid.

In a statement to the L.A. Times, H.D. Palmer, the state finance department spokesman, said, “We believe that gradually phasing out the Middle Class Scholarship Program will allow us to continue to maintain the Cal Grant entitlement program that’s focused on those students with the greatest financial need.”

During its four-year phase-in period, which began in 2014, the maximum amount the MCS awards has increased every academic year. 2017 to 2018 was to be the most generous year yet, with the maximum reward set at 40 percent of mandatory tuition and fees.

“…We must do everything possible to keep college affordable for Californians,” Rendon said in a series of tweets late January in response to an L.A. Times story about Brown’s proposals.

“That includes preserving and expanding financial aid programs like the Middle Class Scholarship, which has benefitted about 50,000 CA students,” Rendon went on. “These programs go a long way toward keeping the promise that college will be in reach of every eligible low-income and middle-class student.”

A budget proposal must be passed by this summer. Brown’s budget proposal awaits potential revision as more accurate revenue information becomes available in May.

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