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March 4th Day of Action to Defend Public Education

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Students and teachers protest in Sacramento, California's capital (photo by Rich Pedroncelli/AP).

Last Thursday I had the honor of joining thousands (over 5,000 up to 10,000 perhaps, by my count) of K-12, junior college, and four-year college students and teachers in defending our right to have an affordable and relevant public education system.  There were protests in all 23 California State University campuses and all ten University of California campuses, not to mention all of the grammar school, high school, and junior college students who walked out, all over California, to demand their right for a better public education system.

Here’s a taste of what it was like at San Francisco Civic Center where I was at (helping to lead chants and taking video from my cellphone).

Labor Notes touches on some of the problems we are facing as students and teachers in California:

A major target is Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislators who ready their machetes as another $20 billion budget deficit approaches this year. The state’s unwillingness, and inability, to raise revenue has already taken a toll, and organizing has been underway for months leading up to the day of action. The state’s three-tiered education system—10 UC campuses, and dozens of state and community colleges—has taken a 20 percent funding cut from the state in three years. Student fees at state schools have exploded by 182 percent since 2002.

While state funds drop, student fees at colleges have spiked, and programs and classes have been cut, while lecturers and campus unions face layoffs and furloughs.

K-12 schools are under siege too: districts are privatizing, and President Obama’s education funding plan cheers them on. In Los Angeles, K-12 teachers joined students at an after-school march downtown. Teachers and school district employees got word that 5,200 more layoffs are coming this year. Some jobs were saved with stimulus money after the union’s protracted battle last year, but class sizes are exploding nonetheless. In Oakland and San Francisco schools, students and teachers walked out of class during a morning “disaster drill” called jointly by unions and school districts.

Hopefully all of the campuses in the CSU and UC system continue to build up steam for more rallies in order to keep the pressure up on the politicians in Sacramento.  Also, and more importantly, students need to start building up functional organizations and coalitions (which work together on a broad set up common issues) that will be able to pull together a wide range of students in demanding cheaper and relevant education.  These coalitions will have to create structures that will last beyond the four to six year time-span that this current student population has in order to create real and lasting change (as this will be a prolonged struggle lasting many years); because of this movement dies when all of the students graduate and move on to whatever it is they will be doing in the future then we can expect more budget cuts to ravage our “public” education system.

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