Education protest from a March rally in Oakland
California spends $216,000 on each youth it incarcerates but only $6,000 on each child it educates.
It imprisons a larger percentage of its youth than most other states. And it spends less on education per student than just about any other state.
These warped priorities, highlighted by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights this week, are one reason teachers and parents and have called for a "State of Emergency" in education funding this week.
Today, Friday, major rallies are planned in San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Bernardino to cap off a week of rallies and awareness building about the deep spending cuts to education in California in the wake of the legislature's refusal to negotiate with Gov. Jerry Brown on tax extensions.
In San Francisco, people will gather at the Civic Center at 4 p.m. and speakers will take the podium at 5 p.m.
They follow rallies in Oakland and other cities on Wednesday, leafletting on Tuesday and a major rally in Sacramento on Monday in which teachers met with legislators and stood their ground in the capitol building - until they were arrested for remaining there after hours.
In the midst of all this, the Oakland Unified Board of Education on Wednesday formalized its layoff of 83 teachers and counselors, even as board members voiced misgivings about doing so and parents pleaded for their schools.
A majority of those position (48) will be cut from Adult Education. But another significant number are counselors at high schools.
“It is so hard to a leader in a district that is not able to support each of you in a way you are entitled to be supported,” said Dr. Gary Yee, president of the board who was clearly upset about the layoffs and other cuts as he spoke to student winners of the Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical Festival who performed before the board Wednesday.
All over California, school districts are cutting teachers, counselors, janitors, supplies and courses after state education officials warned that a cut of $4.5 billion, or between $340 to $844 per student, is likely to happen following the collapse of talks between Gov. Jerry Brown and Republican legislators on how to close the state’s budget deficit.
Gov. Brown said back in January that he wanted to spare K-12 education from further cuts this year after $18 billion in cuts over the past three years, and proposed a budget doing so. But that plan depended on the state extending three temporary tax increases that are set to expire June 30: a half a percent raise in vehicle license fees, a one percent rise in the sales tax, and a quarter of one percent increase in the income tax.
The governor wanted to ask voters on a June ballot measure to approve extending these taxes. But he needed two-thirds of the state's legislators to agree to put the ballot before voters and - with every Republican opposing the plan - he came up short a few votes.
These are "unprecedented challenging times," said Oakland Unified's Superintendent, Tony Smith, prefacing the actions he and several board members said they "hoped to avoid."
What do all the cuts mean?
“I’m really concerned,” said Naomi Tucker, a parent at Peralta Elementary School in Oakland.
“With small children, you can’t do anything but rote teaching when you have a lot of kids in a class,” she said, expecting first grade classes would go to 30 children from 20 children currently if the school loses one of its first grade teachers. Later, dozens of Peralta parents showed up at the OUSD school board meeting to plead against cutting staff at their school.
Across town at McClymond’s High School in West Oakland, some students were also concerned. But students at this school have fewer adults standing up for them at school board meetings and yet resources are already scant.
“I’m in ninth grade and we don’t have a science class for ninth graders,” said a boy interviewed as he walked back into school from lunch break. “But you need three sciences to get into college.”
“We don’t have different languages to study. We only have Spanish,” he continued.
A 10th grade girl, when asked what might happen if the school had to withstand more budget cuts, shook her head.
“We don’t have nothing at this school. No field trips, nothing. The teachers don’t even teach us,” she said, adding that there's not enough of them.
The "State of Emergency" rallies Friday start at 4 p.m. at Civic Center Plaza, with speakers taking the podium at 5 p.m. If you plan to BART get off at Cvic Center stop.
A broad coalition of education groups - from the California PTA to the California Teachers Association and the California School Boards Associaiton and others, are collaborating in these efforts.
Joining them are groups like the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which began the week launching an online rally calling on the state to close down juvenile prisons and spend money instead on educating children. Its members visited members of the California State Assembly.
Parents also have been taking action and are encouraged to come to today's rallies in San Francisco.