In Los Angeles, more than 6,000 people packed in Pershing Square to rally for education.
Californians have been waiting since February for lawmakers to pass Gov. Brown’s balanced and responsible budget proposal. Since then, lawmakers have made $12.5 billion in cuts, but refused to counter that with $12.5 in revenue extensions, forcing schools and colleges to plan for the worst. More than 20,000 layoff notices were issued to teachers by March 15 while legislators still couldn’t reach an agreement. Educators said “Enough is enough” and declared a State of Emergency. A week of action was planned for May 9-13.
Nearly 500 CTA member volunteers converged on Sacramento. The week kicked off with a march to the Capitol with community and faith groups. Later, activities escalated, spurred on by the release of the Republican leaders’ budget proposal.
In response to the Republican plan, which was full of budgeting tricks and would eliminate funding for the successful Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) program, CTA members protested outside the offices of Senate Republican leader Bob Dutton and Assembly Republican leader Connie Conway. When the Capitol closed and educators were asked to leave, 28 made the personal decision to stay behind. Among them was CTA President David A. Sanchez, who explained: “I am not willing to sit idle while a handful of Republican lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly refuse to face the realities happening in the classrooms and communities across California. Today, I took a stand for the millions of California students who are being robbed of their future. I refused to step aside while California’s public schools and colleges go without the vital resources they need.” Those who stayed were removed peacefully and spent the night in a Sacramento jail.
The following day, Friday, May 13, rallies were held throughout the state. Educators traveled far and wide to gather together and collectively insist that education be a state priority. A broad coalition formed to send this message, including parents and other education, community and labor groups. The tune was slightly different — mariachi bands in Los Angeles, a teachers’ rock band in San Francisco, steel drums in San Diego — but when the music stopped, the message was the same: Fund public education.
Here’s a look at some of the statewide rallies on Friday the 13th.
CTA President David A. Sanchez received a hero’s welcome from the crowd of more than 5,000 people on the South Steps of the state Capitol.
Californians came to the Capitol to support funding for schools.
“It’s not only been a teachable moment, but we’ve started a new movement for a better California,” said Sanchez. “It’s going to take us a while to prevail — but we will prevail.”
In the Sacramento crowd were family members representing three generations impacted by cuts: Madalyn Gonzales, a business teacher from Edison High School in Stockton who received a pink slip, her daughter Amber Bosch, and her grandchildren Trinity, 5, and Kayden, 1.
“It’s not just about me getting laid off,” said Gonzales. “I’m worried for Trinity, who will have 40 kids in her first-grade class next year. Kids need their teachers in the classroom. Without teachers, what will happen to kids?”
Looking out from the rally stage at the crowd of about 3,000 Bay Area educators, students and parents, CTA Secretary-Treasurer Gail Mendes spoke from the stage in front of San Francisco City Hall about how the headlines this week were about “waves and waves” of teacher protests across the state. Mendes led the crowd on three solidarity waves, watching the teachers raise and lower their arms and picket signs as they shouted and laughed.
“That was good to see,” Mendes said into the microphone. “And we all know what happens when you turn your back on a large wave. You get knocked down! Or swept away.”
California State PTA President-elect Carol Kocivar urged lawmakers to pass a budget that protects children. “Parents will not be silent as children lose counselors, classroom aides and reading specialists. They will not be silent while arts and music are stripped from our schools!”
In Los Angeles more than 6,000 educators and other labor groups packed downtown’s Pershing Square for an afternoon of activism.
CTA Vice President-elect Eric Heins reiterated the need to extend current tax rates to protect education and other vital services. Reminding the crowd that California already ranks near the bottom in the nation in education funding and is dead last in the number of counselors, nurses, and librarians per student, Heins said, “Our schools and our students simply can’t take any more cuts. It’s not fair to them; our kids deserve better.”
In addition, other State of Emergency sponsor speakers from the California State PTA, the Association of School Administrators, the California Federation of Teachers and other Los Angeles area labor organizations made their voices heard. Pat McOsker, president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, talked about cuts to public safety, then told the crowd, “People always say firefighters are heroes, but to us, teachers are the real heroes.”
It was their home turf, and United Teachers Los Angeles had a large showing at the rally. Sixth-grade teacher and UTLA member Jessica van der Valk came because she and her colleagues have felt the impact of budget cuts and layoffs, with class sizes at her school ranging from 28 to 42.
“We do a better job when we really know the child,” she said. “But when they lay off a colleague, we can’t because of the extra students. We need to extend taxes we’re already used to paying anyway; it would make a tremendous difference!”
More than 2,500 people from throughout San Diego, Imperial, Orange and Riverside counties traveled to participate in the huge “Not Business As Usual” State of Emergency rally for public education at San Diego’s Embarcadero Marina Park North.
|Darin Curtis, one of California's Teachers of the Year, describes how funding cuts affect the classroom in San Diego. |
San Diego Education Association President Bill Freeman welcomed participants to San Diego, and CTA Executive Director Carolyn Doggett gave welcoming remarks from the statewide Education Coalition. Rally speakers included California Teacher of the Year Darin Curtis from the Lakeside Teachers Association and Superintendent of the Year Lou Obermeyer of the Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District, both in San Diego County, and representatives from the District 9 Parent Teacher Association, the California School Employees Association, the California Faculty Association, and Student CTA, plus students from San Diego’s High School for International Studies.
A widely touted “counter rally” initiated by the right-wing Koch Brothers fizzled, with only about 10 participants. Some media interviewed them on the extreme periphery of the Education Coalition rally, but most State of Emergency rally participants were completely unaware of their presence. Ironically, the opposition participants arrived in a white limo sporting a sign, “Government Workers Make Too Much!”
Close to 1,000 Education Coalition leaders from the Inland Empire gathered with teachers, parents, education support professionals, administrators, public employees and students from elementary school to college at the National Orange Show in San Bernardino to oppose further cuts to education and other state and local programs.
CTA Secretary-Treasurer-elect Mikki Cichocki emphasized the crowd’s interdependence: “Each of us leans on one another to meet our societal needs, and because ‘we are one’ we must support extending current taxes.” Speakers included James Ramos, San Bernardino Community College Board of Trustees, and California State Board of Education member, who said, “Public education is vital to the health of our democracy. Tax extensions will enable us to avoid further damage to our schools and our students.”
Student CTA Southern Regional Vice President Wesley Porter told attendees, “We need to fight for the future we want.”
After the rallies, Gov. Jerry Brown issued his “May revise” for the state budget, which, if approved by the Legislature, would provide additional funding to K-12 schools and allow local districts to maintain current funding levels and rescind some planned program cuts and layoffs. No additional cuts have been proposed for California’s colleges. CTA continues to call for an extension of the temporary taxes approved in 2009 in order to keep our economy on track, to restore much-needed jobs and to prevent further drastic cuts to public education.
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