BARSTOW - Barstow Community College students will see tuition costs lowered from $20 to $15 per credit if a Feb. 5 ballot initiative passes, but opposition groups say the statewide measure is too costly and has no clear source of funding.

Proposition 92 would change the way money is allocated within the state's education budget and limit future increases in community college tuition fees. It would require the state to spend an additional $300 million on K-12 schools and community colleges over the next three years, according to the state's Legislative Analyst Office. The funding for the measure would come from the state's general fund and local property tax revenues.

Supporters of the proposal say that increased funding is needed to make college more affordable for more students, especially in a uncertain economy.

"I think it's critical for California's community colleges, California's community college students and California's economic development to pass this measure," said BCC President Clifford Brock.

He said that while the college's $20 per credit cost may seem small, the tuition is prohibitively expensive for some students.

"The critical factor is when you add up all of the costs of a college education: tuition, rent, books, and fees," he said. "As much as we like to think that you can live on air as a student, it's just not true."

The precise impact on BCC's finances is unclear, but the college could receive as much as an additional $1 million dollars starting in 2009 if Proposition 92 passes, said Curt Mitchell, the college's vice-president of administrative services. He said the college does not have specific plans on how to spend the money and any effects could be offset by anticipated cuts in the state budget.

"It helps our students and provides a more stable funding source," he said.

If the measure passes, it would allow college administrators to better forecast how much funding colleges will receive each year making the budgeting process easier, he said.

Opponents of the measure say that although they support the state's community college system, the uncertainty of the funding source makes them fear that budget cuts would be needed in other areas to pay for the proposition.

"There's no funds. It's a business decision," said Barbara DeBoom, president of the Palm Desert Chamber of Commerce, who opposes the proposition. "There's no funding to give them. We've got so many mandated things in the budget; it's got to come from somewhere."

She said that opposition groups are concerned lawmakers may be forced to make funding cuts to the state's four-year public colleges and universities, hospitals and state-funded programs to pay for the measure

The potential impact the proposition would have on the Barstow Unified School District is unclear, said Tony Wardell, the district's assistant superintendent for business services.
"We're not sure how it will go," he said. "We imagine someone would have to give up a piece of the state pie."

He said that the potential of overall budget reductions, including the 10 percent cuts advised by Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger, will likely have a greater effect on the district than any ballot proposal.

"We've anticipated that it could hurt us to the tune of a million dollars," he said. "We're more concerned about that than proposition 92."

Three community college students interviewed by the Desert Dispatch say that they are satisfied the current cost of tuition. Maiya Johnson, who studies business at BCC, said that she and her friends are able to afford the college because they receive large amounts of financial aid. She said she thinks that the biggest obstacle for students is not financial.

"It's not the money," she said. "They just have to come to class."

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