Calif. Governor Proposes Amending Constitution to Bolster Higher Education

Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a requirement that California spend more on higher education than it does on prisons in his final State of the State address on Wednesday.
January 06, 2010

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California proposed a constitutional amendment in his State of the State address on Wednesday that would require the state to spend more money on higher education than it does on prisons.

The proposal, which would face large hurdles before it could become law, would dedicate billions of dollars in new state support for California's struggling colleges and universities. The plan follows decades in which spending on the state's growing prison population has exploded while spending on higher education has declined.

Under the proposal, California would be required to spend no less than 10 percent of its annual budget on public colleges and universities and no more than 7 percent on prisons. The state currently spends 11 percent on prisons and 7.5 percent on higher education, said Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

"What does it say about a state that focuses more on prison uniforms than caps and gowns?" Mr. Schwarzenegger said in his final State of the State address. "It simply is not healthy."

The proposal has a difficult road ahead. For it to go into effect, California voters would need to approve the measure on a ballot, and they would probably also need to approve controversial prison reforms that would free up money to spend on higher education. Mr. Schwarzenegger is an unpopular governor in the last year of his term, making it difficult for him to rally support for new programs.

But college leaders praised the idea on Wednesday and said they were pleased that the governor was focusing attention on the issue. Mark G. Yudof, president of the University of California, said in a written statement that the amendment was "a bold and visionary plan that represents a fundamental restoration of the values and priorities that have made California great."

Scott Lay, president of the Community College League of California, which lobbies for community colleges, said he was surprised and delighted to hear Mr. Schwarzenegger bemoan the cuts in spending on higher education. But he said the California budget was already hobbled by restrictive spending requirements.

"The attention to the depletion of funding for higher education from the state being addressed is welcome," Mr. Lay said. "I'm not sure another formula is the best way to tackle the problem."