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Saturday, July 31, 2021

Candidate for state superintendent to sponsor student-authored legislation addressing college affordability

MICHAEL LEAHY / AGGIE

Assembly member Tony Thurmond plans to address student homelessness, decrease tuition if elected

Assembly member Tony Thurmond, who is running for California superintendent of public instruction, has committed to sponsoring student-authored legislation aimed at addressing college affordability. Thurmond held a media teleconference on Oct. 4 for student reporters in the California State University and University of California systems as well as a subsequent college affordability town hall at UC San Diego to speak directly with students throughout the state.

If elected superintendent — the highest elected education position in the state — Thurmond would serve on the CSU Board of Trustees and the UC Board of Regents. He has previously served in the assembly education committee, on the school board and city council and has worked as a social worker for 20 years.

During the teleconference for student reporters preceding the town hall at UCSD, Thurmond answered questions about his plans to address student homelessness, administrative bloat and decreasing tuition.

“It’s really unique for state leaders to take the opportunity to hear directly from students on what our needs are,” said Caroline Siegel-Singh, a UC San Diego student leader.  “I hope that in the future, folks in Sacramento can work on addressing the total cost of attendance and ensuring the basic needs of our campus communities are being met.”

The Aggie asked Thurmond about a recent article published by the San Francisco Chronicle, reporting that at the same time UC workers finally secured a 3 percent raise, a 3 percent raise will also be given to UC leaders — amounting to a $10,000 to $20,000 bonus for some administrators in certain cases.

“It’s outrageous, and I’ve said this directly to [Janet] Napolitano — you don’t cut people’s salaries and then give huge payments to administrators,” Thurmond said. “We’ve seen already what this kind of paying out of salaries has led to — UC squirreling away money that no one knew about, money that could have been used to fund critical programs for our students. I’m going to take the job as regent very seriously to make sure we work closely and every dollar is well spent and that it’s spent in the best interest of our students.”

Thurmond said he has worked closely with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299, which represents over 25,000 UC workers. One of AFSCME’s primary concerns is outsourcing, and Thurmond said he has written letters opposing outside contracting.

“The UC contracts out so many services that could be done in house and have a tremendous savings for the university,” Thurmond said. “As a legislator, I challenge UC leadership to end those practices. I’ve supported legislation that would ban this type of contracting out and I’ll continue to take that stance.”

On the issue of student homelessness, Thurmond said current data suggests 5 percent of UC students, 11 percent of CSU students and 25 percent of community college students are homeless.

“I’m open to all kinds of creative solutions, but I’m not willing to accept that we’re just going to tell our students, ‘You can just be homeless and hungry and that’s just the way it is,’” Thurmond said. “We’ve got to do better and we’ve got to create an environment that’s conducive to learning. When you’re worrying about where you’re going to rest your head, when you’re worrying about what you’re going to eat, that is not conducive to learning.”

Thurmond, a Temple University graduate, struggled to pay for food as a college student and said he has a personal relationship to issues that come with securing adequate financial aid.
On the topic of tuition, Thurmond said the $60 tuition decrease for the 2018-19 school year is not “something we can celebrate.” To further decrease tuition, he said there must be conversations about generating permanent revenue for higher education in the state.

Statistics presented at the town hall noted that state funding for higher education has declined from 18 to 12 percent of the state budget in the past 50 years.

“We need to provide direct dollars and help provide fellowships, scholarships, more financial aid, we need to look at how we work with the federal government so that students have to take out fewer loans,” Thurmond said. “And quite frankly, as superintendent, I intend to push back on Secretary DeVos and President Trump […] and say, ‘We should build an environment that protects our students from aggressive debt collectors.’”

Following the teleconference, Thurmond held a town hall with students and administrators from the UC, CSU and CCC system. Several days later, on Oct. 9, Thurmond announced plans to sponsor legislation “written by youth advocates, to address college affordability” in a press release sent by Thurmond’s campaign.

“Throughout my legislative career, I have introduced student-led bills and a few of them have been signed into law,” Thurmond said. “I believe that what’s important about being a trustee and a superintendent is listening to our students, and I intend to lead and govern that way. I believe we should be listening to students in that way.”

In the press release, Caroline Siegel-Singh, a student leader at UC San Diego, voiced support of the legislation.

“It’s really unique for state leaders to take the opportunity to hear directly from students on what our needs are,” said Caroline Siegel-Singh, UC San Diego student leader.  “I hope that in the future folks in Sacramento can work on addressing the total cost of attendance and ensuring the basic needs of our campus communities are being met.”

 

By: Lauren Tropio and Hannah Holzer — city@theaggie.org, campus@theaggie.org

 

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