A bill authorizing additional community college classes for students willing to pay higher fees divided Assembly Democrats on Monday as some questioned whether the proposed legislation would create a two-tiered system.
Assembly Bill 955 by Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, passed 48-12, with 18 lawmakers not voting. The bill allows California community colleges to create self-supporting programs during summer and winter intersessions where students pay nonresident tuition of around $200 a unit, versus the state-funded courses that charge $46 per unit. A third of the revenue collected from the courses would go to providing financial assistance to students eligible for fee waivers.
Williams said his bill is not a perfect plan to address reduced student access to courses necessary to transfer to four-year universities or obtain degrees or certificates. Williams said budget cuts have made it difficult to meet the educational needs of students.
"I realized this would be a very unpopular measure in some circles," Williams said. "Stakeholders ... want the perfect solution, and I understand why they do. But, holding out for the perfect solution when people are suffering is wrong. The conclusion I came to is it would be a failing on my part ethically to take the easy path."
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, said the bill would segregate students based on their ability to pay higher fees. Weber noted that the bill would benefit her son, who is a community college student.
"I would never want him to believe that because mom has a little more money and this is a state-funded institution that I can afford to pay for him to have experiences faster than anyone else at the institution," Weber said. "For me, it's a fundamental issue of access and what the community college has stood for all these years in California."
Sacramento Democrats Richard Pan and Roger Dickinson did not vote on the bill.
PHOTO CREDIT: Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, right, receives congratulations from Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, after his measure that will allow California community colleges to offer additional classes during shorter summer and winter sessions at a higher tuition rate, was approved by the Assembly. AP Photo/ Rich Pedroncelli)