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State, SF work to expand access to education at preschool, college levels

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Under Assembly Bill 123, low- and middle-income families in California could be eligible for free preschool education. (Cindy Chew/Special to S.F. Examiner)

State legislators on Monday introduced two bills that would make education more accessible to California’s youngest and some of its oldest learners, complementing efforts already underway in San Francisco.

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago has called for the state to provide two tuition-free years of community college for first-time, full-time community students under Assembly Bill 2, and Assemblymember Kevin McCarty is looking to expand access to preschool education for low and middle-income families under Assembly Bill 123.

Both proposals will “hopefully build on the Bay Area’s leadership in helping students, whether preschool families or college students, that are still left behind and don’t have the chance to participate,” McCarty told the San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday.

While San Francisco voters in June approved Proposition C, a San Francisco voter-approved measure seeking to raise upwards of $140 million for childcare services, early education and teacher salaries by raising a tax on commercial rents, that measure is facing legal opposition. But Santiago’s AB2 would set aside more than $1.5 billion in state funding to expand existing preschool programs for middle and low-income families.

McCarty has also introduced legislation to fund the construction of preschools and to hike the wages of preschool teachers. While the bill would not provide universal childcare, it would address gaps in service, he said.

“We have to be realistic with money we have in the budget. Universal would cost north of $4 billion. I don’t know if we can afford that,” he said, adding that while current subsidized state preschool programs currently serve about “175,000 middle and lower income three-and-four-year olds,” there are tens of thousands of more families who could “benefit based on their income.”

Under AB123, children who live in areas where at least 70 percent of students fall below a certain income level would become eligible for free preschool.

McCarty said that the policy window to expand early childhood education at the state level has been opened by “a bit of a surplus in the state budget” and a shift in leadership, as well as recent research showing its impact on addressing the achievement gap, economic disparities and cycles of poverty.

“If you can do anything to get improvements in education, achievement, the economy and childhood poverty, early childhood education is the place to go,” said McCarty.

AB2, the community college bill introduced by Santiago, comes as San Francisco leaders are working to place a measure on the ballot that would subsidize City College of San Francisco’s Free City College program with city funding for at least 10 years.

Funding for Free City, which covers tuition costs for San Francisco residents enrolled at CCSF, was raised by a voter approved tax on the sale of properties worth $5 million or more, but the pilot program is currently set to expire next year. The ballot measure proposed by Supervisor Jane Kim is a charter amendment that would continue the program, at a cost $15 million in its first year.

Santiago’s effort is a one-year extension of AB19, which was implemented in 2017 to make the first year of community college free for all first-time, full-time students with some $46 million in funding through the state budget. Full-time students are defined as those enrolled in 12 or more semester units.

“Students across the state face unprecedented challenges. Whether it be the cost of tuition, finding affordable housing, or paying off student loans, it is crushingly expensive to be a student today,” said San Francisco Assemblymember David Chiu, who cosponsored AB2.

While aimed at covering community college student’s tuition, the bill does offer some flexibility on how the funding is spent. With Free City in place in San Francisco, the state money could pay for student’s books, transportation or housing costs.

In a letter addressed to city leaders on Tuesday, CCSF Chancellor Mark Rocha advocated for a revision to the current Memorandum of Understanding between The City and City College governing the Free City program’s funding. He suggested designating it as an entitlement program for San Francisco residents rather than a Financial Assistance Fund Program.

“Under this proposal a grant equal to the tuition amount that students pay, $46 per credit unit, would be provided to students whose enrollment fees are not covered by the state,” Rocha wrote. “SF residents would attend City College tuition-free. Students eligible for financial aid would receive the same grant amount, but since their tuition is paid by the state of California, these equity students will have money to use toward other educational costs including textbooks, transportation and even for many students, food.”

CCSF spokesperson Connie Chan said that the college will receive the state funding allocated under AB19 beginning in January 2019.

The state and local efforts to waive tuition costs for community college students are “parallel but independent of each other,” said Chan.

McCarty said that both AB123 and AB2 “build on cities like San Francisco” that have allocated local resources to subsidize education costs.

“If San Francisco already has a free community college program, [AB2 funding] would be on top of that,” he said. “If San Francisco already pays for tuition for some of these students, now they can use that money to pay for books and housing. We know that college is not just tuition — there are other expenses.”

This story has been updated to reflect that CCSF Chancellor Mark Rocha recommended changes to the Free City College Program’s Memorandum of Understanding, and did not address the proposed ballot measure funding the
program .

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