Walkout on the UC Berkeley campus, 9/24. Photo by epioles, http://www.flickr.com/photos/epioles/3952085214/.
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With mass layoffs, swelling class sizes, slashed school programs and a gloomy budget outlook, what are California schools to do? Organize, of course! So say the thousands scheduled to hit the streets today throughout the state.
Around the country, public schools are facing a budget crisis as education stimulus money, $100 billion of the $787 billion package, runs out. In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s revised budget further cut this year’s education funding. Many district reductions include cuts to summer school, college courses, library hours and retention programs. There has even been talk of half school days for K-12 or removing senior year altogether.
California spends $2,400 less per student than the national average and ranks 47th in per-pupil expenditures compared with other states, according to the Oakland Unified School District’s Every Student Blog. The state also ranks at the bottom of barrel for staff-to-student ratios. According to the blog, California cut money for education by $18 billion for 2008-09 and the first half of the current school year. As a result, each classroom has lost about $11,750.
In addition to slashing budgets, the state has delayed the release of funds, restricting the ability of districts to plan and manage cash-flows, according to the blog.
Inspired by last September’s UC Berkeley walkout, which protested plans for a 32 percent fee increase, today's effort is part of the National Day of Action to Defend Education. A coalition of students, parents, workers and allies organized the event to protest budget cuts, teacher and staff layoffs, and tuition and fee increases in public education.
"Hundreds of classes have been cut throughout the Peralta system," said Mer Stevens, a Laney College student. “And due to cuts in the UC system, UC students are now coming to Peralta Colleges to fulfill some of their general education requirements. That puts us into a situation where we have to compete for resources, and that’s just not an effective solution."
Stevens is one of many who banded together March 4 through e-blasts, direct e-mails, Facebook, flyers, Stand Up For Schools, various public education activism blogs, YouTube, teach-ins and conversations in classrooms and hallways.
At Laney, students and teachers, along with the No Cuts Peralta Coalition, have been meeting since 2009 to oppose budget cuts at Peralta Colleges. They are scheduled to walk out at today 11 am.
Planned activities throughout Oakland Unified School District include leafleting to parents and students before the first bell and a 9:15 am "California's Budget is a Disaster!" fire drill highlighting the state of emergency. Students and teachers in some schools intend to walk out and take vacation or personal leave days to take part in activities through the city such as a morning picket line.
Students at Oakland Technical High School are scheduled to walk out at 1 pm. The school district faces a $39 million budget deficit and an expired teachers' contract.
Though every rally will focus on different strategies, gatherings largely converge around overturning the two-thirds majority vote required to pass state budgets.
Many will speak about the California Democracy Act, sponsored by George Lakoff, and other propositions.
Rallies will also cover progressive taxation, decreasing reliance on one-time funding, parcel taxes, budget transparency and reprioritizing public school funding over prisons as solutions to California’s public education funding crisis.
California's Day of Action for education takes place only days after the firing of Rhode Island's Central Falls High School teachers. In Los Angeles, 5,200 school workers face layoffs.
After UC Berkeley protestors vandalized and trashed streets last week, education allies are on alert. United Educators of San Francisco will train safety monitors for the Civic Center events starting at 4 pm. Volunteers can e-mail Matthew Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bay Area police will be out in force.
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