The first major sign of recovery is appearing at California's community colleges, months after voters threw their support behind the state's struggling public education systems.
Summer classes, slashed by 60 percent during the economic crisis, are on their way back.
Students and faculty are heartened, saying they hope it will mark the beginning of recovery for the nation's largest public education system, which took a $1.5 billion hit between 2007 and 2012.
"We want to make sure people know that things are changing," said Despina Prapavessi, who teaches math at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill. "We hope that things will get better and that slowly and steadily we will recover. For awhile it felt like a free fall."
Repairing the damage to the 2.4-million student system is still a distant goal, even with the Prop. 30 tax increase and an additional $210 million the colleges expect to receive in the coming year. For most local colleges, the restoration of summer classes this year brings the number of sections back to 2010 levels, if that.
Still, the new classes represent a shift in momentum; after years of deciding which classes to cut, schools are considering what to add.
Summer session registration at most Bay Area colleges begins this month, and campuses from Pittsburg to San Jose have shored up their offerings. Chabot College in Hayward will have nearly 50 more classes than it did last summer. The four Peralta colleges in Oakland, Berkeley and Alameda will add about 70, combined.
Evergreen Valley College in San Jose will more than double last year's selection, bringing the campus almost back to where it was in 2010. The expansion will benefit high school and college students, said Keith Aytch, the college's vice president of academic affairs.
Although the summer session was once seen as an add-on, it has become essential, particularly for students who are working to put themselves through college, Aytch said. But those courses often were the first to go when financial pressures grew -- in part, because the session isn't bound by the same union rules as the regular academic year.
It was a relief to hear Diablo Valley College would have summer classes, said Contessa Smith, a student from Fairfield. "It gets our credits out (of) the way quicker, and we have something to do besides work," Smith said.
After two years of meager offerings and turning away students, Diablo Valley College is advertising its classes, which start in June, hoping to avoid the opposite problem: empty seats. The Contra Costa County college is offering 122 more course sections, an increase of nearly one-third. Its math department will teach everything from high school geometry to differential equations -- courses that didn't make the cut last year.
For the first time in years, its horticulture department won't have to shut down for the summer.
Taking a break from watering plants in the college's outdoor greenhouse, Michelle Eyestone, of Pinole, was happy to have her first opportunity for a summer horticulture class since she enrolled in 2010. "It's a big deal for us," she said.
It's also good news for the rows of ornamental and edible greenery stretching out behind her. Plants that didn't sell at spring semester's end were especially ill-fated without a summer program to keep them growing.
"I can't tell you what it does to a horticulturist to fill a dumpster full of plants," said Bethallyn Black, a faculty member. "Thank God Prop. 30 went through," she said. "It's a huge change for us."
Follow Katy Murphy at Twitter.com/katymurphy.