04/09/2012 01:19 pm ET Updated Jun 09, 2012

Making Room for the Middle by Supporting Speaker Pérez's Middle Class Scholarship Act

It actually happened.

It's now more expensive for a middle-class family to send a child to one of our California state universities than it is to send their son or daughter to Harvard.

The skyrocketing increases in California State University and University of California tuition -- with CSU tuition nearly doubling in the past few years alone -- have put a quality education beyond reach for more and more middle-class families. Private schools like Harvard can afford to offer generous scholarships to middle-class families while our state colleges and universities are sending out more and more rejection notices and offering fewer and fewer scholarships, particularly to middle-class students.

And that's more than a challenge for the California families struggling to afford college. Our failure to educate our own children means we are undercutting the very foundation of our economic success while undermining the fundamental promise we have made to each other as Californians.

Meeting this challenge will take a fundamental shift back in our spending priorities. We are now spending nearly as much on prisons as we are on higher education -- a dramatic shift from 20 years ago when I started at UC Berkeley. And our state now ranks dead last in state spending per student enrolled in higher education.

One of the many steps we can take to fund higher education for every qualified student is to support the comprehensive Middle Class Scholarship Act now being proposed by Assembly Speaker John Pérez.

The legislation would close a glaring tax loophole by requiring corporations to calculate taxes based on their proportion of sales in California. The estimated $1 billion in revenue would be used to dramatically lower tuition for middle-class families, with UC costs falling from $12,192 to $4,023 and CSU tuition costs dropping from $5,970 to $1,907. Community colleges would also receive $150 million yearly under the plan to help increase access and affordability.

Of course we need to support affordable colleges and universities for every student regardless of income. But the lowest income students still qualify for most of the financial aid and the highest income students have family support. It is the hard-pressed middle class that has been hit the hardest by skyrocketing tuition increases, a fact reflected in the declining percentage of UC and CSU students who come from middle-class families.

It wasn't that long ago when every student who studied hard and did well could fully expect a place at an affordable California college or university. That wasn't just good for the students and their families; it helped fuel a sustained economic boom in California that saw us lead the world in the knowledge economy.

I was one of those students -- a middle-class kid from an immigrant family that made my way to a UC Berkeley that was still affordable for the average Californian. Back in those days, I met another child of immigrants who was finding opportunity in a California where we could all still dream big dreams at great colleges and universities. Back then John Pérez already carried the authority of leadership -- and we knew he was headed off to do great things.

One of the greatest things he could accomplish in government is to make the California dream of affordable and accessible colleges and universities a reality again. We can help him by supporting the Middle Class Scholarship Act he is now advancing.

Please sign the petition today to support the Middle Class Scholarship Act and help make college affordable for California's families.