In his State of the State address yesterday, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed a constitutional amendment that would dramatically raise state funding for public higher education and impose a restrictive cap on state prison spending.

The proposal, which would bring the University of California and the California State University system billions of dollars in guaranteed new funds each year, has left observers of California politics scrambling to grasp its implications and assess its chances of passage.

Yesterday afternoon the governor’s office released a detailed draft proposal for the amendment. Here are some of its key points:

  • Beginning in the 2011-12 budget year, all reductions in state prison spending would be set aside for support of higher education.
  • Starting in 2014-15, prison spending would be capped at 7% of the state budget, and higher education spending would receive a guaranteed minimum of 10%.
  • All of that funding would go to the UC and CSU systems — the state’s community colleges already have a separate constitutional budget set-aside in place.
  • The state government is “prohibited from … utilizing early release of prisoners” to meet the savings mandates, which the proposal anticipates the use of prison privatization to achieve.
  • The provisions of the amendment could be suspended if the governor declared a state of emergency in California as provided by state law, or by a two-thirds vote of the state legislature.

As I noted yesterday, the governor’s chief of staff has cited last semester’s massive wave of student protest as the “tipping point” that led Schwarzenegger to embrace this new model of higher education funding. Whatever the ultimate prospects of this constitutional amendment, the political contours of California students’ fight for higher education have been dramatically altered by yesterday’s events.