State Assembly Speaker John Perez and other Democrats say their proposal will keep students from middle-income families from getting "squeezed out" of the University of California and California State University systems by higher tuition costs.
Those in the middle class often make too much money to qualify for college financial aid. But under a new plan unveiled Wednesday, families making less than $150,000 per year could get some help.
Fourth-grade teacher Lynette Simon thought she had saved enough to put her son through Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. But after numerous recent tuition hikes, the Central Valley mom is worried.
"We started when he was little, but it's not going to be enough to get him all the way through to graduation," said Simon.
Relief may be on the way: Assembly Democrats just introduced a middle-class scholarship plan that would cut tuition at California's public universities by two-thirds. About 150,000 CSU students and 42,000 UC students would qualify.
Depending on the campus, families would save from $16,000 to $33,000 during a four-year period, welcome news to Californians who've seen tuition spike well over 200 percent in the last decade.
"It's a little hard on my family. So I've been trying to get more scholarships to help with that," said Dylan McManus, a CSU freshman.
"Yeah, because people just need some help. That's just it. We need to help people now. Tuition is just too high," said CSU sophomore Daniel Gibbs.
But as good as it sounds, it probably won't get approved by the state Legislature because it needs a two-thirds majority.
In order to pay for the billion-dollar program, Democrats want to rescind a tax break given to corporations as part of a 2009 agreement to temporarily raise taxes.
Republicans are reluctant to undo a deal that helps job creators, and they want to remind everyone that it's Democrats who approved deep cuts to higher education that forced the tuition increases.
"It's interesting that when you have a tuition crisis created by Democrats not willing to cut one sector, but instead loading it up on higher education, now they're coming back and trying to unwind another deal to help solve the problem they created," said Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar).
Lynette Simon feels middle class families have given enough.
"I think corporations can give a little bit, just like every one of us are giving right now, paying taxes and trying to better our children's lives," said Simon.
Assembly Democrats hope to pressure Republicans by focusing the debate as a choice between large out-of-state corporations and California college students.