Supes, mayor clash over tuition-free City College

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 9-1 Tuesday to appropriate $9 million for a fund intended to make City College of San Francisco tuition free for all city residents in the coming school year.

Students and families should not bank on the tuition subsidy just yet, however, as Mayor Ed Lee has said he does not plan to spend all of the money the board has allocated.

In a budget realignment plan released last week Lee proposed to spend $500,000 on setting up the program in the current fiscal year and then $4.25 million in the next two fiscal years, for a total of $9 million over three years.

And while the legislation introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim and approved by the board calls for the subsidy to be available to all city residents, the mayor’s proposal suggests a more limited program.

Mayor’s spokeswoman Deirdre Hussey said:

“The mayor supports the City College supplemental but spending it over a longer period to develop a sustainable program that addresses the needs of those students that cannot afford City College.”

The mayor’s proposal includes plans for an advisory board to develop a program to fund City College “for those students unable to pay.”

The mayor’s conservative approach to the community college subsidy comes as part of a larger budget realignment prompted in part by the failure of a sales tax measure that was intended to fund homelessness services and transportation improvements.

The funds appropriated by the board Tuesday will come from Proposition W, a property sales tax increase approved by voters in November.

While the funds from the tax increase cannot legally be designated for use for City College, Kim and other supervisors today said it was made clear to voters what they were intended for.

Kim said, arguing that voters had given The City a mandate:

“I want someone to look me in the face and tell me that the majority of voters did not know that it was intended to make city college free.”

Kim called on the mayor to fully fund the program, arguing it is a concrete way The City can make higher education more affordable for its lower and middle class residents and give residents a chance at economic equality.

Supervisor Mark Farrell was the lone vote against the appropriation today, arguing that the board should not be approving the funds in the absence of a larger discussion about funding for homelessness and other services.