By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty addresses students and supporters of the Cal Grant Reform Act during a rally at Sacramento City College. The California legislature is debating a bill that would expand free tuition to more California students. Antonio R. Harvey, OBSERVER

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) hosted a rally at Sacramento City College on June 6 urging Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature to adopt a debt-free college plan for students.

Assembly Bill (AB) 1746, the “Cal Grant Reform Act,” would expand free tuition to more low-income students in the state, eliminate grade-point-average requirements for community college students, and guarantee financial awards for students eligible for a federal Pell Grant.

“California could be the first state in the nation with a true debt-free college plan if we adopt a budget that is now being debated in the Assembly and Senate,” said McCarty, a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus. “This will be a game-changer for students and families across our state.”

Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California Community Colleges; Michael Gutierrez, president of Sacramento City College; and California Student Aid Commission Executive Director Marlene Garcia participated in the rally held in front of SCC’s Performance Arts Center.

An additional 150,000 students, including 11,000 Black and 95,000 Latino students, would become eligible for the new Cal Grants under the act, according to the Campaign for College Opportunity.

Campaign for College Opportunity is a nonprofit organization devoted to increasing the number of students attending California’s two- and four-year colleges and to significantly impact the rate at which students succeed and achieve their postsecondary education objectives.

“It’s critical that we attend to the needs of students,” Samantha Elizalde, a graduate from Sacramento State, said at the rally in English and Spanish. “The Cal Grant Equity Framework invests in California’s next generation of leaders and a stronger workforce.”

In its May 10 update, the Educations Data Initiative (EDI), a team of researchers that collect statistical data about the U.S. education system, reported that Black and African American college graduates own an average of $25,000 more in student loan debt than White college grads.

Asian college graduates are fastest to repay their loan debt and most likely to earn a salary that exceeds their student loan debt balance, according to EDI’s report.

California student loan debt is close to $142 billion – the greatest amount of any state. The average student loan debt is $37,084 in the state and 51% of student loan borrowers are under age 35, the report reveals.

The U.S. federal student loans moratorium expires Aug. 31 for 43 million Americans. The interest rate on student loan payments restarts Sept. 1.

“We need our students to graduate in four years and do so without borrowing so much money,” McCarty said of the thousands of Californians saddled with student-loan debt.

Event speakers said reform in the Cal Grant system can alleviate the burden of students purchasing textbooks, food, housing, childcare, and transportation. Low-income students in the University of California, California State University, and community college systems would benefit from an expanded Cal Grant program, supporters say.

“Students are facing greater challenges, greater housing insecurity, food insecurity, and the pandemic has made that challenge worse,” Oakley said. “An equitable Cal Grant system is key to students’ and Californias’ future.”

Approximately 150,000 students, including 11,000 Black and 95,000 Latino students, would become eligible for the new Cal Grants under the act, according to the Campaign for College Opportunity. Antonio R. Harvey, OBSERVER

McCarty, D-Sacramento, a co-author of the bill and chair of the Assembly’s subcommittee on education finance, said AB 1746 is the best step toward a pathway to debt-free college for undergraduate students. Jose Medina (D-Riverside) co-authors the bill.

Members of the Fix Financial Aid Coalition, GenUP, UC Student Association, Cal State Student Association, California Student Aid Commission, Campaign for College Opportunity, Student Senate for California Community Colleges, Public Advocates and other advocacy groups appeared in unison to show their support of AB 1476.

Garcia said at that rally that “60% of all Cal Grants go to women,” mostly struggling to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes (D-Riverside) and the California Legislative Women’s Caucus (CLWC) are in support of AB 1476. CLWC is a bipartisan group of female legislators, advocating on behalf of women, children, and families in California.

“I, along with several members of the @CaWomensCaucus, support including the Cal Grant Equity Framework in our state budget,” Cervantes posted on her Twitter page June 2. “This Cal Grant reform will make state financial aid available to an additional 150,000 students, including women students & student-parents!”

McCarty represents California’s 7th Assembly District, which includes Sacramento, West Sacramento and unincorporated Sacramento County.

For information concerning AB 1476, visit

Support for this Sacramento OBSERVER article was provided to Word In Black (WIB) by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. WIB is a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media that includes print and digital partners.