Kim proposes charter amendment to fully fund free City College program for the next decade

In one of her last acts as supervisor, Jane Kim has proposed a city charter amendment that would guarantee City College of San Francisco receives adequate funding for the next decade to continue offering free courses and student stipends.

The proposal would remove the funding uncertainty that has surrounded the Free City College program since it started last year.

The funding is currently determined through negotiations between the community college and The City and also dictated by terms of a contract set to expire in June 2019, setting the stage for a debate about the program’s future.

Kim wants the board to vote to place the measure on the November 2019 ballot before she is termed out of office in December. It would take at least six votes to do so.

Free City College, often referred to as Free City, began as a two-year pilot program in the 2017 Fall semester. The program served more 35,000 students in the 2017-2018 academic year and contributed to a 17 percent jump in the school’s enrollment.

Program supporters had wanted The City to commit more funding at the outset and are concerned about the future commitment.

It took some political wrangling, for example, to expand funding for summer courses. A funding request to offer free courses this past summer was rejected, but through negotiations spearheaded by Kim during the city’s most recent budget process, funding was approved to pay for free courses for the next two summer sessions.

Also, The City has not fully funded the costs of the free program, leaving City College to carry the additional expense.

In 2016, Kim led the effort to make City College free again — it was last free in 1983 — by putting Proposition W on the ballot. The measure, which passed with nearly 62 percent of the vote, increased the tax on the sale of properties in excess of $5 million.

While the money goes into the city’s general fund, there was an understanding it would be used for the tuition subsidy program — but there were, and are, no guarantees about that.

Kim’s charter amendment would guarantee that funding by creating what is commonly referred to as a “set aside.” Such set asides exist for other services like for libraries, children services and firefighters.

“This dedicated revenue fund will ensure the success of this program for 10 years, after which it will have to either come back to the voters or be allocated annually by the Board of Supervisors once we have provided its security and ensured its ability to tell the story of its success,” Kim said when she introduced the charter amendment Tuesday.

Kim said that “in the first year of Proposition W’s implementation, this revenue brought in $28 million to our general fund. However, the administration at the time approved only $5.4 million per year to the free City College program in fiscal year 2017 and fiscal year 2018, which ended up not being enough to cover the expense of this incredibly successful program.”

Free City has cost about $4 million per semester, or $8 million total for both the fall and spring semester, and summer session is expected to cost $1.2 million. That doesn’t include administrative costs.

Enrollment “exceeded our most optimistic prediction,” Kim said, and “speaks to the incredible thirst of our residents to attend our only lifelong learning institution.”

In addition to guaranteeing free enrollment year round for residents, the funding would also ensure low-income students a $500 stipend per semester if they are full time, and $200 if they are part time, to pay for books and transportation costs, according to Kim. That’s double the amounts currently provided. The proposal would adjust the stipends annually based on the consumer price index.

The charter amendment would create the Free City College Fund and require The City allocate $15 million into the fund beginning in fiscal year 2020-2021. The City would increase the funding each year by about $700,000, meaning the fund would receive $15.7 million in fiscal year 2021-2022.

The Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families would oversee the fund.

City College of San Francisco trustee, Ivy Lee, backs the measure. “The voters have always been so supportive of City College” and the charter amendment will make it “crystal clear” that the program will receive the resources it needs from The City. “We are eating some of the costs,” she added.

Tom Temprano, a City College of San Francisco trustee, praised the proposal for the certainty it would bring to students and the school alike.

“That permanent funding source puts us in a much healthier place,” Temprano said.

Jennifer Worley, president of the City College’s faculty union, AFT 2121, is backing the proposal. Worley said the program “has succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.”

“Thousands of students are using Free City to begin degree programs, update their professional skills, retrain for new careers, and enrich their lives,” Worley said in an email. “San Francisco has led the country by making higher education available and accessible to all, so there is no question that we must fully fund this program, and make it a permanent feature of the San Francisco landscape.”

The Mayor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

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