Rallies to focus on cutbacks in education

Thousands of students, teachers and parents in California and across the country are expected to stage rallies, demonstrations, walkouts and other actions Thursday to decry what they say is an assault on public education at all levels.

The so-called Day of Action is in response to education funding cuts that have affected schools nationwide, but have been especially severe in California, where public colleges and universities have canceled classes, ordered furloughs and layoffs and enacted unprecedented student fee increases.

Faculty, students and alumni are expected to descend on the state Capitol in Sacramento for a rally and teach-in that will include personal testimonials on the effects of the cutbacks and fee increases. In downtown Los Angeles, participants plan to rally in Pershing Square and march to the governor’s office in the Ronald Reagan State Building.

In addition, events are scheduled at most of the 10 campuses of the University of California, California State University’s 23 campuses and many of the state’s 112 community colleges. Many students are expected to walk out of class to protest the cutbacks.


Many of the demonstrations are being planned by campus faculty unions, but the actions, along with earlier advocacy efforts by students and faculty, have also drawn at least qualified support from some top administrators.

In a statement, Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed said the university “supports the efforts of our students, faculty and staff to bring awareness about the importance of higher education in California. It is critical that legislators in Sacramento hear from businesses and the community about the importance of CSU.”

The California effort -- aided by the use of social media such as Facebook -- has also spread eastward. Schools and colleges in New York, Texas, Rhode Island, Michigan, Louisiana and other states are expecting similar demonstrations on their campuses.

One of the newest aspects of this wave of campus protests sparked by budget cuts is the alliance of students, faculty, staff and alumni on issues that directly affect so many: college costs, career options, and job and financial security.

Also unusual is the expected participation in the protests of kindergarten-to-12th-grade educators, who are experiencing similar budget problems that have forced layoffs, led to larger classes and resulted in cancellations of art, music, physical education and other programs.

More than 100 K-12 schools and districts have planned demonstrations and community events, raising expectations that Thursday’s protest may be one of the most widespread ever in California and increasing the chances of catching legislators’ attention, organizers say.

“The goal is to try to increase public awareness about the crisis in public education,” said Teri Yamada, a professor of Asian studies at Cal State Long Beach and president of the campus’ California Faculty Assn. chapter.

“We haven’t seen much movement at the state level or in the Legislature to try to improve the problem,” she said. “The public needs to become more aware of exactly how devastating these cuts are going to be and have been. If they keep cutting, they are going to destroy the education system and wreck the economic viability of the state.”


The activities planned by teachers and staff at many Southern California secondary schools focus on parents’ engagement. Campuses in the K-8 Ontario-Montclair School District, for example, are expected to hold tailgate breakfasts and pass out information about the budget cuts to parents.

Some educators involved in planning the protests say they see a measure of hope. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his State of the State address, proposed shifting some money from prisons to education and mandating that no less than 10% of state general funds be used for universities by 2014. But some students say they still feel neglected.

“The biggest thing you’re seeing with these actions is the buildup of frustration,” said Christopher Chavez, 22, a political science major at Cal State Long Beach and student government president. “Students feel like the state doesn’t care about them anymore, that we’re just a set of numbers on paper and we don’t count.”

Some university faculty say they are feeling that way too, as funding cuts permeate departments and affect programs, workloads and research.


“No doubt many Californians feel we live in an ivory tower, but we’re more than willing to climb down and join a just cause,” said Richard Walker, a UC Berkeley geography professor and member of the faculty group SAVE the University. “We’re defending a public education principle, but the practicality is that if California’s schools and colleges aren’t producing good students, we suffer.”

More than 750 students and faculty from UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz and the University of San Francisco have signed up to board about 14 buses to the Sacramento rally, Walker said. “We have more than 120 faculty going. We consider ourselves like Harvard or Yale and to get 120 faculty off their duff to go to Sacramento is unprecedented.”