Oroville Mercury-Register

Newsom opposes major changes to Cal Grants

- By Michael Burke

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administra­tion opposes a Legislatur­e-backed overhaul of the Cal Grant program, declaring the package too expensive.

The legislatio­n, Assembly Bill 1456, has been praised by student leaders and financial aid advocates, but the state’s Department of Finance opposes the bill, arguing that implementi­ng it would cost too much, block aid for some students, and could motivate the state’s four-year universiti­es to hike tuition.

Proponents of the bill estimate it would expand Cal Grant eligibilit­y to up to roughly 200,000 more students. The Cal Grant is the state’s main financial aid program.

Most of the students who would benefit under the bill are community college students who would no longer need a minimum GPA to receive the awards. The bill also aims to simplify the Cal Grant program. Students would begin applying for grants under the new system in fall 2023 and begin receiving them in the 2024-25 academic year.

Newsom has until Oct. 10 to decide whether to sign the bill. Newsom’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Newsom has three options: sign, veto or allow the bill to become law without his signature. When asked whether Newsom could negotiate with lawmakers over the bill, H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the Department of Finance, said Newsom could “certainly have discussion­s with the Legislatur­e on any given measure or issue.”

In an analysis of the bill that describes its opposition, Newsom’s Department of Finance wrote that the bill would create “significan­t one-time and ongoing general fund costs” that aren’t included in the budget that was agreed to over the summer, “likely in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.”

The department estimates that the annual costs of the program would be higher than the costs estimated by the California Student Aid Commission, which backs the bill. According to the Finance Department, the commission estimates that the revisions would create annual costs of $82.6 million, while Finance estimates it would be $174.4 million above current levels.

The aid commission disputes that the bill would require annual costs not covered by this year’s budget deal.

The department also is concerned that the bill could motivate CSU and UC to raise the cost of tuition. The bill restricts UC and CSU students to only use Cal Grants to pay for tuition and fees. Under the legislatio­n, UC and CSU will be expected to use institutio­nal aid to help students cover nontuition expenses.

“Relying upon institutio­nal aid to further support non-tuition costs could create pressure for institutio­ns to increase tuition and mandatory fees,” the department wrote in its analysis. This summer, UC’s board of regents approved a plan for tuition increases beginning in fall 2022. Under the plan, tuition will be increased for each incoming class of students but will then be frozen for the duration of their enrollment, assuming they finish college within six years.

The Finance analysis also estimates that some future students who would be eligible for Cal Grants under the current system would no longer be eligible under AB 1456, thanks to changes to income qualificat­ions.

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