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Working In These Times

Tuesday, Mar 2, 2010, 5:55 am

Calif. Unions Step Up Opposition to Public Education Gutting

BY Seth Sandronsky

Marches, rallies planned statewide

SACRAMENTO, CALIF.—Students and workers in California’s public schools—K-12 and higher education—will protest against deep budget cuts on Thursday, March 4. 
 
“We have never before witnessed this much participation and outrage about the dismal state of education on our state campuses and in our public schools,” says Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association (CFA), a labor union which represents a total of 23,000 tenured and tenure-track instructional faculty, lecturers, librarians, coaches and counselors in the 23-campus California State University. “The call for March 4 protests has hit a nerve. It’s an historic moment.”

In California and across the U.S., tax revenues have slowed sharply after the housing market crash. K-12 spending cuts of $18 billion in the past two years have closed California schools and forced local districts to fire employees. With a $20 billion state budget deficit now, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing education cuts of $2.5 billion, while vowing to protect California’s public school students.

“Our message is simple: legislators must protect and expand the budget for public education with adequate funding,” said Kevin Wehr, a sociology professor at Sacramento State University and CFA campus president.

Local school districts depend on state aid, the decline of which has received a short-term patch of federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that President Obama signed in mid-February 2009. These federal dollars have saved some K-12 school jobs and programs, but this revenue source is nearing an end.
 
The past year also brought double-digit fee increases for CSU and UC students. These post-secondary students are also facing fewer and more crowded course sections.
 
On Thursday, marches and rallies to defend public education from further spending cuts will take place statewide—from the San Francisco Civic Center and Pershing Square in Los Angeles to the CSU Northridge campus and state capitol in Sacramento.
 
Similar assemblies to oppose public education cuts will take place in 17 additional states across the country, according to the CFA. The 340,000-member California Teachers Association, a K-12 teachers union, is also showing support for the March 4 day of public education action.
 
Back in Sacramento—where Democrats control both houses of the legislature—Majority Leader Alberto Torrico (D-Newark) will speak at the state Capitol’s “Educate the State” rally. His Assembly Bill 656 would impose a 9.9 percent tax on California oil producers, directing roughly $1 billion to the state’s higher education system.

The California Federation of Teachers, which represents 120,000 teachers and support personnel from early childhood through the University of California, "is undertaking a series of actions to publicize the underfunding of public education and social services and to reform how the state legislators make decisions,” said Ken Burt, CFT political director.

These events include the March 4 protests, which aim to call attention to the detrimental affects of skyrocketing tuition at colleges and universities, and "a March 5 kickoff in Los Angeles for a march to Sacramento" that will push for a November 2010 ballot to allow a simple legislative majority to pass a state budget.
 
In California, the constitution requires the votes of two-thirds—not a majority—of lawmakers to pass budget and revenue actions.
  
CFT’s statewide march will end in Sacramento at the state Capitol on April 21.

Seth Sandronsky is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Race and Class, Review of Radical Political Economics, Sacramento News & Review and Z Magazine, among other publications. He lives and writes in Sacramento, Calif., and can be reached at ssandronsky@yahoo.com.

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