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Let's Get Our Priorities Straight

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With the upcoming University of California walkout, we asked our Facebook community recently how the impending UC and CSU cuts were affecting them. The response was overwhelming:

Stephanie from SF State needed only two classes to graduate with her bachelor's degree. But one of the courses was eliminated -- graduation will have to wait until next year.

A mother from the East Bay worried that her daughter couldn't enroll in a single class she needs and is about to lose her student status, her financial aid, and health insurance.

Sarah from UC Davis saw her tuition increase almost ten percent, while her mother, a state employee, just took a 15 percent pay cut.

UC Berkeley will be eliminating approximately one out of every ten courses this coming year. UC San Francisco will potentially have to reduce their faculty by fourteen percent because of the recent cuts. UCLA has reduced support to research centers by fifty percent. UC Irvine has completely stopped admitting students into their education program.

All across the state, we are choking off opportunity for hundreds of thousands of young Californians to build a better life for themselves and a better future for California.

And it's our fault. We've allowed our system of governance to de-fund and de-prioritize higher education, putting our state's economic future in jeopardy.

Let me be clear: I favor fully funding the UC system. Cannibalizing our state's future through cuts to education is the exact opposite of the kind of reform and long-term thinking we need from our leaders in Sacramento.

But the current resource-constrained situation forces us to make difficult choices about our shared priorities. We must protect our environment, provide universal health care and invest in infrastructure development. And therein lies our statewide dilemma.

We have a system in California that discourages thoughtful budget and financial planning, requiring a two-thirds majority every year to pass a budget that paralyzes our state. We have a complex web of ballot initiatives that further complicates the process.

Walkouts like the one currently planned will become more frequent unless we undertake systemic reforms and truly take California in a new direction.

We need to convene a constitutional convention and get serious about changes to the system. Until we do, we're jeopardizing our ability to be competitive in the global economy. Preparing our children for success in the 21st century necessitates investment in higher education not cuts to it.

In San Francisco, we have a robust rainy day fund. We drew down on our reserves to make sure not a single teacher in San Francisco was laid off when the recession hit. We created a partnership between SFSU, the school district, and the city to guarantee a college education to every public school 6th grader who wants one. And if their families can't afford tuition, we help with that too.

We operate with a limited budget in San Francisco, just like the state. But we managed to keep teachers in the classroom and promise every student a chance to go to college. We didn't raise taxes -- we reformed the budget process and used resources in a smarter way.

It's time to shake up the system that's put our state in this mess. We need come together to fundamentally rethink how we govern California.

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