It’s hard to believe less than a month has passed since Election Day. Swing states had barely been called before those of us invested in the future of public education in this country started to get nauseous. The election of a man who had promised to cut the entire U.S. Department of Education and who had created a fraudulent for-profit “university” seemed downright apocalyptic.
Fortunately for us, there were reasons for optimism in San Francisco. On Election Day, voters made a clear statement that they want San Francisco to take the lead on public education. They passed Proposition W, which created a transfer tax on luxury real-estate sales to fund free City College at a cost of $14 million annually and generate an additional $30 million for other uses, with nearly 62 percent of the vote.
Voters did this because they believe that San Francisco should be at the forefront of the national movement for free community college. President Barack Obama, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton all presented plans to make community college free over the past few years and, though the election of Donald Trump may have dashed those plans on a national level, they are very much alive in San Francisco.
The Free City College program will enable 30,000 City College students to attend credit courses without having to make the decision between paying tuition and being able to afford rent or groceries. Students already receiving financial aid will be eligible to receive up to $1,000 a year to help them with expenses like books, transportation and class supplies. With our student debt crisis reaching $1 trillion, text book costs sometimes exceeding those of tuition. And in an economy that requires job training and certification or a college degree to be competitive, San Francisco has the opportunity to lead.
Sadly, some at City Hall have other plans.
At the same time that voters approved Prop. W, they overwhelmingly rejected Proposition K, the mayor’s sales tax initiative. The ink had hardly dried on voters’ absentee ballots before it became clear that Mayor Ed Lee and some members of the Board of Supervisors planned on plundering Prop. W funds intended for free City College to make up for the failed sales tax.
We expect politicians to override the will of the voters in other parts of this country, but we expect better in San Francisco, and we certainly expect them to wait longer than a few weeks before making a mockery of our election results.
Sixty-two percent of San Franciscans voted yes on Prop. W, believing that a portion of the revenue generated would go to making City College free for all of us. Why would they believe that? Because on three separate occasions, 10 of the 11 members of the Board of Supervisors voted for exactly that. A few people should not be able to go back on their word and undo the wishes of the 225,000 of us who voted for Prop. W just because some other things didn’t turn out their way on Election Day.
If San Francisco really wants to stand up to Trump and show the rest of the country how to lead ourselves out of the Trump Dark Ages, free City College is the place to start. I ask you to join City College students, teachers, community stakeholders and hundreds of thousands of voters and let your supervisor and mayor know that you want free City College in San Francisco.
Tom Temprano is a trustee-elect for the City College of San Francisco.