By Mike Myslinski
Unified Association of Conejo Teachers member Josh Carolan, CTA President David A. Sanchez, Assembly Member Tom Torlakson, and Ventura Classified Employees Association member Michael Musser at the state Capitol for Presidents Lobby Day.
Bringing grim stories from their decimated schools, more than 200 local chapter leaders representing thousands of educators from across the state took to the halls of the Capitol in late May to convince legislators to stop public education cuts and to urge them to sign cards committing them to protect education during the state budget battle ahead.
The commitment cards are part of a California Education Coalition campaign outlined at www.promisetostudents.com. By signing the card, legislators promise to protect public schools from further cuts, stand by the agreement signed into law last summer to repay $11.2 billion owed to public schools, and oppose any attempt to undermine Proposition 98, the voter-approved minimum school funding guarantee.
“Teachers know that our state’s $19 billion budget deficit is a crisis, but education has already been cut by $17 billion over the last two years,” said CTA President David A. Sanchez. “California voters believe protecting schools from more cuts should be a top priority during the budget fight. Now the governor’s proposing to cut billions more. Teachers today asked lawmakers to stop the cuts, and to sign commitment cards to show they stand with parents and educators to protect our classrooms and students.”
Going office to office in the Capitol, determined teachers met with their local representatives for urgent conversations about the scope of the growing school cuts crisis. They reminded lawmakers that 26,000 educators received preliminary pink slips this spring — meaning thousands will not be returning to teach in September — and that art, music, physical education and career technical education classes are being gutted across the state. Many community college students cannot find required courses due to cuts, and CSU students have lost roughly 10 percent of their faculty.
Teachers like Jeanette Wylie — a chapter president from Solano County, where students face soaring class sizes and widespread cuts — stood with lawmakers who have signed the cards, including Assembly Members Tom Torlakson and Tony Mendoza and state Sen. Leland Yee.
“This past year our class sizes have soared, with up to 55 students in our PE classes and 39 in academic classes,” said Wylie, president of the Travis Unified Teachers Association. “We have one librarian for our 5,200 students — and only one school nurse for all of our students.”
Lawmakers showed unity with teachers by signing the commitment cards. “I stand with the students, teachers, and parents who are saying enough is enough,” said Sen. Yee (D-San Francisco). “The state budget should not be balanced on the backs of students, schools, and the most vulnerable. I will continue to oppose all budgets that put the interests of corporations and the rich before the interests of public education and California families.”
“The people of California are telling us it’s time to stop starving our schools and get on with the business of educating our children,” said Assembly Member Torlakson (D-Antioch). “They know that well-trained teachers and strong neighborhood schools are going to be the backbone of this effort. It’s time to reject the proposals by the governor and others who make teachers the scapegoats of their budget cuts. I’ve already signed this pledge. It’s a first step toward restoring California’s public schools.”
Sonia Martin-Solis, a second-grade teacher at Hillcrest Drive Elementary School in Los Angeles, told lawmakers that educators and students cannot be expected to do more with less. “Essential support services such as nurse time and counseling have been severely impacted,” said Martin-Solis. “Our state lawmakers must stop the cuts, and I’m in Sacramento today to ask my own legislators to sign the commitment card and stand by their promise to make schools a priority. Our students deserve a chance at a better future than they are getting through these unprecedented budget cuts.”
“Even before the governor proposed more cuts in his revised budget, California’s schools already ranked at the very bottom of all 50 states in staff-to-student ratios,” said President Sanchez. “Our classrooms are alarmingly overcrowded, and we rank 46th in per-pupil funding. If lawmakers don’t find a way to protect public education from further devastation, generations of students will pay the price.”