Shortly after being sworn in for his second term in the State Assembly, Democrat Das Williams vowed to restore access to California’s community college system, describing “immoral” and “devastating” cuts that have put half-a-million students on waiting lists for classes not being offered. At Santa Barbara City College this past fall, the number was 1,500. As the new chair of the Assembly Committee on Higher Education, Williams is in a position to do something about it.
Although funding shortfalls lay outside the scope of his committee’s authority, Williams said he’s examining a handful of proposed solutions, each one more unpopular than the next. “The trick is find the solution people hate the least but can do the most good,” he commented. To date he has yet to endorse any. Class-size increases are on the table, he said, as are limits on the number of credits any one student can take. By limiting the classes available to “perpetual” students, room could be made for students seeking to graduate. Some community colleges are now charging more for advanced or elective classes. Some have pushed to give priority to students just enrolling.
Williams said there was a great sense of relief and gratitude in Sacramento that Proposition 30 passed, meaning that $6 billion in additional cuts did not have to be implemented. “Prop. 30 was a life raft, not a panacea,” he said. Although the recent election appeared to give Democrats the two-thirds majority needed to pass spending measures, Williams said it will take another year before that supermajority is actually sworn in. At that point, he said, he might be open to changes allowing school districts and local governments to get bonds approved with a 55-percent majority rather than the two-thirds now required.