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tuition_protest.jpgDirectly challenging Gov. Jerry Brown's budget priorities, Senate and Assembly committees last week proposed spending another $95 million to $100 million for California State University next year.

CSU has been asking for the additional funding boost since January, when Brown suggested an increase of $125 million, or 5 percent, for the system in 2014-15.

But the Legislature's proposed added funding would come with a condition -- a moratorium on the controversial "student success fees" that have spurred protests at campuses across the state in the past few months.

"We don't want to saddle our CSU students with further debt," said Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, chair of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education. "We wanted to send a strong signal to our state and our students that the Legislature is making public higher education among our top priorities."

The fees, which vary by location but usually run several hundred dollars per semester, have been implemented at 11 of the 23 CSU campuses in recent years to generate revenue for initiatives that improve student success and completion rates. This includes hiring new faculty, adding more course sections and buying new technology.

But critics of the fees say they are a workaround to the tuition freeze implemented in 2012 in exchange for increased state support. As more schools considered new fees this spring, students demonstrated outside the CSU Board of Trustees meeting in Long Beach and at campuses from Sonoma to San Diego.

Meredith Turner, director of governmental relations for the California State Student Association, which represents CSU students, said they are not looking to eliminate the fees completely. Many campuses implemented them through a student vote, because students wanted to finish their degrees faster.

"While we don't think these fees are a great solution, do you really think it's a great idea to take away the ability for campuses to address their own needs?" she said.

But the moratorium, which would prohibit CSU schools from raising or implementing new success fees for at least a year, should be used to find improvements, such as greater transparency and student input in how the money is used, she added.

"Hopefully this will mean, moving forward, we won't have to look at additional means of getting funding," Turner said. "Hopefully fewer and fewer new fees will need to be added."

It's unclear how much of that additional money CSU will see. Brown has expressed repeatedly that he does not plan to increase higher education funding beyond the level in his January budget proposal.

If Brown rejected the Legislature's proposed funding increase, Muratsuchi said they could still pursue a moratorium on student success fees through legislation.

CSU was not available for comment.

PHOTO: Sarah Garcia, 19, joins a handful of other students at the California State University Board of Trustees meeting in Long Beach on September 19, 2012, to protest a potential hike in fees. Los Angeles Times/Rick Loomis



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