It may be a non-election year in California but Tuesday is Election Day in several other states, so it seemed apropos to give a brief update on the first year of the 2019-20 legislative session in California as it relates to community colleges and Napa Valley College specifically.

Each year, Napa Valley College (NVC) hosts a legislators’ breakfast, where we look at the state of higher education in California.

Our keynote speaker this year, introduced by NVC Trustee president Kyle Iverson, was Lizette Navarette, the vice president of the Community College League of California. The league is our partner at the state level, working closely with us on initiatives and representing California community colleges at the state legislature. Navarette oversees budget advocacy, marketing and communications, and policy development for California’s 72 community college districts.

Navarette spoke about community colleges and the “74 Percent Movement,” noting that community college students now comprise 74 percent of the state’s public higher education system. “Those in the community college family know all too well our strengths,” she said. “Community colleges, like Napa Valley College, provide access to higher education for populations that wouldn’t otherwise have it.”

Navarette shared some stats, including that more than half of California’s veterans attend a community college – and community colleges serve the majority of African- American and Latinx students, as well as substantial numbers of low-income, first-generation and older students.

“Our strengths lie in numbers, diversity, and our community connections,” she said. “As California tackles its greatest challenge – making social mobility ubiquitous – the 74 percent can play a critical role. Because if people have access to a community college, then they have access to social mobility.”

And that message was heard loud and clear in Sacramento, where Gov. Newsom signed nearly 300 bills that will make changes to California’s Education Code.

We are fortunate to have a close relationship with our local Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry and Senator Bill Dodd, both of whom are strong advocates for Napa Valley College and spoke at our legislators’ breakfast. While Dodd shared frustration created by PG&E’s planned power shutoffs, the focus of his remarks was on legislation as it affects higher education, especially community colleges and your community college in Napa.

Students not knowing where their next meal is coming from is widely recognized as a serious problem on college campuses in California. Dodd introduced — and the Governor signed — SB 173, which will help low-income college students get access to nutritional food through Cal Fresh. The bill removes barriers to student subsidies under the Cal Fresh program in part by streamlining the application process.

Aguiar-Curry co-wrote AB 30 (Holden), which will simplify the process colleges currently required to enter into a College and Career Access Pathways partnership. AB 30 will reduce the administrative challenges related to program implementation and allow dual enrollment high school students to complete only one application while attending a community college, acquire college credits early, and prepare for college-level coursework or career pathways.

Another bill, AB 612 (Weber) will create a statewide agreement between the Chancellor’s Office and Department of Social Services to streamline the process for a college to accept Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards on campus.

Both bills, which were sponsored by Community College League of California and supported by the Napa Valley College Board of Trustees and signed by Newsom, will ease administrative burdens for colleges that want to create programs that are proven to help students’ academic success.

The Legislative Committee of Napa Valley College Board of Trustees, chaired by Jennifer Baker, reviewed all three of these bills and recommended support.

On another note, our Board of Trustees recently entered into an agreement to allow Napa County Office of Emergency Services to operate a Care & Shelter Center on the NVC campus following a local disaster. I am so pleased the campus was able to serve the community last week by providing shelter and accommodating families who were evacuated because of the fires in Sonoma County. It continues to be a challenging time, and we pray for the safety and well-being of all those impacted by the fires in our neighboring counties and for our first-responders.

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Dr. Ronald Kraft is the superintendent/president of Napa Valley College. Visit napavalley.edu to learn more.