Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla ’82 (D-Concord) represents California’s 14th Assembly District. As chair of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance, she fought to minimize budget cuts to the Cal Grant program, a funding initiative that makes attending private universities a reality for many California students, including 18 percent of APU students. Bonilla’s efforts resulted in the passage of bills that increased funding for veterans, saved transitional kindergarten from elimination, and provided adequate training for teachers. Recently, the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU) named her Policy Maker of the Year for her work strengthening higher education in California.
APU LIFE: Why is it important to invest in educational initiatives like Cal Grants?
Bonilla: California must invest in higher education if we want to see economic growth. Companies need well-educated workforces, and a strong educational system helps California maintain a place of leadership in the nation and the world. This makes initiatives like the Cal Grant some of the most important investments California can make in terms of maintaining a successful economy.
APU LIFE: How does the Cal Grant program transform the lives of students?
Bonilla: A Cal Grant will not cover full tuition but offers encouragement to students dependent on financial aid and inspires hope that attending college is possible. Recognizing and rewarding the academic and leadership efforts of students, the Cal Grant gives them a chance to fulfill their dreams and pursue the career of their choice. Cal Grant represents the unified voice of Californians saying, “We want to invest in your future success.”
APU LIFE: Describe the process of saving the Cal Grant program from extreme budget cuts.
Bonilla: After the governor proposed a 44 percent cut to Cal Grants, I worked through months of negotiations with senators to reduce the cut. The process required persistence, determination, and strategy, but I refused to back down. Advocacy and support from many sources made this possible. Cal Grant students and university faculty members, including many from APU, came to the capital on the day of the final hearing to lobby for the Cal Grant. The involvement of AICCU and encouragement from individuals like President Jon Wallace also paved the way to reducing the original Cal Grant cut by 50 percent.
APU LIFE: As a former high school English teacher, what inspired you to transition to a political career?
Bonilla: When the opportunity to run for an elected position first arrived, my initial reaction was to dismiss it. I’m so glad I didn’t because politics allows me to take the influence I had in the classroom to the next level. While I loved my role as a teacher, I can now impact entire families and statewide education policy from the unique perspective of someone trained in and passionate about education. Looking back, I see that you can’t plan your life completely. You must keep an open mind and be willing to take some risks.
APU LIFE: How does your Christian faith complement your role as a public servant?
Bonilla: I rely heavily upon my faith, especially under the great responsibility I have as a legislator. During my time in elected office, I seek to follow Micah 6:8 (NAS): “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” I constantly ask God to hold me accountable, making sure I am acting justly, treating others with mercy, and walking in humility while in this role of service.