Senate Bill 461, the successor to Assembly Bill 3153 — which died in committee last year — was introduced by California State Senator Richard Roth (D-Riverside) to the California State Legislature on Feb. 22, and is now slowly making its way through the legislature.
In its current iteration, Senate Bill 461 (SB 461) will provide up to nine units of aid per session to students eligible for Cal Grant, and would be valid for four-year students for two summer sessions, and valid to transfer students for one summer session.
Generally, summer sessions are six weeks long, shorter than the standard 10 week quarter.
“There are a couple changes this year, but it doesn’t have to do with the bill, it has to do with the climate,” Kuvimbinashe “Eddy” Chikukwa, chair for Coalition for a Better UC, said.
He cited the election of California Governor Gavin Newsom as a reason for why the bill may pass this time.
“[Newsom is] more favorable towards funding higher education… and really willing to reform the Cal Grant system in a way that we did not see last year.”
Newsom, who previously sat on the UC Board of Regents, has been much more receptive to suggestions compared to former governor Jerry Brown, who had “a very antagonistic position with regards to the UC,” Chikukwa said.
“[Newsom] got to hear a lot of the complaints people had, and he got to hear a lot of the solutions people had regarding this issue… Gavin understands that you need to fund higher education so that students have adequate aid to get out faster.”
Alongside the bill, students are pushing for a budget request to ensure that money is allocated specifically for summer aid.
“Last year, a lot of people were hesitant to support it because if the bill were passed it would be drawn from the general fund, and there were concerns that this money could be taken from other students,” Chikukwa said.
SB 461 has drawn more support and grown a larger coalition of interest groups that are invested in reforming Cal Grant. The University of California Office of the President (UCOP) is co-sponsoring the bill, while the CSU Chancellor’s Office and the California Student Aid Commission (CSAC) are also in support of it.
“There is also the will to reform Cal Grant. There is an actual desire which is evidenced by the recent assembly,” Chikukwa said, in reference to the joint legislative hearing chaired by California State Assembly Members José Medina and Kevin McCarty on Feb. 6, where “Closing the Degree Gap” was discussed.
Regarding the necessity of summer aid for eligible students, Chikukwa noted the projected deficit of college graduates by 2030.
“We’re acknowledging the fact that there’s a 1.1 million college graduate deficit that’s going to happen, we’re acknowledging the fact that low-income students tend to be the ones who don’t graduate on time, and we’re acknowledging the fact that we need more of these students to graduate faster.”
Chikukwa also noted how S.T.E.M. students, who don’t necessarily always pass their major classes, often must resort to taking summer classes.
Another issue which arises is that major classes during the year are often overenrolled.
“So the state is making us enroll all these students into these courses and we don’t have space to put you in right now, so the best option is summer, and the state is making the UC do this and not providing summer aid, which is problematic,” Chikukwa said.
The bill has a long way to go, however.
“We just introduced it, this is still the ‘hip hip hurrah’ phase.”
In order to become law, SB 461 must make it through the Senate Education Committee, the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate floor. Then, after this, it must go through the California State Assembly.
However, Chikukwa is optimistic.
“It was really scrutinized heavily last year. A lot of people looked at it and they made their suggestions, and so this year I haven’t heard too many objections because the final objection last year was the lack of a budget request. People didn’t have any problems with the language of the bill.”