By Dina Martin
Enough is enough with budget cuts.
"We haven’t had a GATE [Gifted and Talented Education] program since 2008. Class sizes in K-3 have increased to 25 students per class and will be going up to 30 next year. We haven’t had any field trips since 2008. We no longer have assemblies. We have no funding for after-school tutoring. Our intervention aides have been cut. Our site office staff has been cut . Maintenance has cut back. We haven’t had any furniture replaced for the past several years. And our library books are wearing out."
This is how fifth-grade teacher Danielle Stigthans describes the impact of budget cuts on Kendrick Elementary in Bakersfield. That’s why Stigthans, co-president of the Greenfield Educators Association, will be urging the 400 members of her chapter to participate in CTA’s “State of Emergency” week of action May 9-13.
Greenfield is not alone. School districts throughout California are eroding in all sorts of ways. It’s going on three years that California’s schools have been drained of the resources they need to carry on. In that time, $20 billion has been cut from state public education funding and 30,000 teachers have been laid off. This year, another $2 billion to $4 billion may be cut, forcing another 20,000 teachers to leave the profession. In addition, more than 1 million students are losing up to five instructional days as districts struggle with their budget shortfalls. As an entire generation of students goes without the educational opportunities they deserve, some California lawmakers are still hijacking the state budget process by refusing even to vote on the tax extension portion of Gov. Brown’s budget package.
“We are living in a state of emergency,” says CTA President David A. Sanchez. “We need to take bold action that sends a crystal clear message to Sacramento. We aren’t going to sit back while the negligence of some lawmakers bankrupts our schools, closes our parks, abandons our sick and elderly, and puts entire communities at risk.”
CTA declares ‘State of Emergency’
For the past four months, CTA and its Education Coalition allies — administrators, school boards, school staff and the state PTA — have urged the state Legislature to adopt the budget proposal presented by Gov. Brown in January. Because the governor inherited a $25 billion budget deficit when he took office this year, he proposed $12.5 billion in cuts to existing programs, along with a ballot measure that would allow voters to extend four temporary taxes to provide the remaining $12.5 billion. The Legislature approved the cuts, but could not come to agreement on placing the tax extensions on the ballot.
“Unfortunately, the Legislature has not been able to overcome partisan bickering in order to work together for the greater good,” Sanchez says. “And now it’s time for us to take some bold actions. We aren’t going to sit back while the negligence of some lawmakers bankrupts our schools, closes our parks, abandons our sick and elderly, and puts entire communities at risk. CTA has declared a ‘State of Emergency,’ and we are asking everyone to participate in events the week of May 9-13 designed to urge all lawmakers to pass the proposed tax extensions.”
Set forth by CTA’s State Council of Education at its April meeting, the plan includes activities building from a week of sit-ins at the state Capitol to a massive “Not business as usual” mobilization on Friday, May 13, in which educators will participate in six major regional rallies.
It’s anticipated that other groups will be participating in the rallies and events, including members of the statewide Education Coalition, nurses, firefighters, other labor unions, and faith and community groups.
These “escalating” activities are likely to include calls and visits to targeted legislators in critical areas; walking neighborhoods; educating members and the community about tax fairness; and attending the rallies at the end of the week.
"You may not be able to do everything, but we certainly encourage you to do what you can," Sanchez says.
Although the governor is still hoping to place the tax extensions before the voters, CTA fears such an election will come too late, and is now asking the Legislature to pass the extensions without affirmation by the voters — something certainly within the lawmakers’ powers and duties.
“Just because there isn’t going to be a June election, doesn’t mean lawmakers are off the hook. They still have a state budget to pass and a responsibility to do the job they were elected to do,” Sanchez says.
“They have a responsibility to our kids, to our public schools and to the future of our state. They have cut $12 billion from the budget, and now it’s time to finish the job,” he says. “Forget the election. Lawmakers need to do what’s right and pass the tax extensions, period.”
CTA’s State Council develops plan
CTA’s State Council devoted much of its April meeting to developing a plan of action. Committees spent part of their meetings brainstorming possible events for the week in May. What resulted were lots of ideas which will be available to organizers of the activities.
Council adopted the acronym L.E.A.R.N. as a way of organizing activities for the week. On Monday, May 9, the focus will be on LEGISLATIVE activities; on Tuesday, May 10, members will be asked to reach out to EVERY PARENT; Wednesday, May 11, is California Day of the Teacher, a time to APPRECIATE educators and ALLIES; Thursday, May 12, will be the day to promote the need for REVENUE for schools, and to educate our members and the community about tax fairness. Finally, Friday, May 13, will be the day of NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL, when educators will gather for rallies in Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Inland Empire, and San Diego. In addition to local L.E.A.R.N. activities throughout the state, CTA retired and student members are meeting to develop complementary plans of action.
Higher education takes a hit
K-12 schools aren’t the only area of education that will be affected by the budget cuts. Community colleges and universities are slated to be cut by $1.4 billion — community colleges by $400 million, and the UC and CSU systems by $500 million each.
In the community colleges, reductions would include doubling of student fees, elimination of all sports, and reducing the number of CalGrants available to low-income students.
Community colleges, currently facing $400 million in cuts, would find themselves in a much deeper hole if the tax extensions are not passed.
“It’s a devastating blow to community colleges and to our students,” says Community College Association President Ron Norton Reel. “If we don’t find a solution, we are looking at denying access to more than 400,000 students. That’s unimaginable.”
California’s community colleges turned away 140,000 students during the last school year, and it’s estimated that twice as many have been turned away this year.
Even now, almost half of the students who were able to enroll in the colleges reported they were unable to get the courses they needed because classes were full, according to a survey conducted by the Pearson Foundation. That’s twice the rate of the rest of the nation.
Students and faculty in the California State University system are also up in arms. More than 10,000 students and faculty participated in rallies, marches and sit-ins on the 23 campuses of the CSU system in a “Day of Class Action” on April 13. The rallies were coordinated with other protests around the nation over cuts to colleges.
“We’ve been carving away and carving away and carving away,” says Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association. “The path we are on is almost suicidal for the state.”
Without passage of the tax extensions, cuts will mean soaring tuition, fewer classes, and limited space for students.
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