Six core marchers organized by the California Federation of Teachers will be completing their trek from Bakersfield to the capitol in an effort to bring attention to California’s education crisis.
The march will culminate in Sacramento on April 21.
Jim Miller, a core marcher, said the way to fix the crisis is through revenue increases rather than budget cuts.
“We have one of the biggest education budgets, but we also have a large population so our per capita spending ranks far below that of other states,” Miller said.
The marchers are advocating increased taxes for higher incomes and re-establishment of commercial property taxes. According to the march’s website, re-assessing the values of non-residential real estate could raise $3 billion. Returning the very top tax brackets to 1992 levels for incomes over $250,000 and $500,000 a year could raise an additional $4-6 billion.
Core marcher and Watsonville high school teacher Jenn Laskin estimated that approximately one-fifth of the teaching staff in her district has been given pink slips.
“Public education is like the health of your country,” Laskin said. “People need to be concerned because we all live together and we need to find ways to make our world better; instead we’ve only been focusing on ways to keep it from getting worse.”
Laskin said the nurses, counselors and custodial staff were among the first to be let go. There are now seven school nurses for 19,000 students and the flu has become a huge problem because there are not enough custodians to maintain a clean environment.
One of the main things the marchers want to change is the two-thirds majority requirement for budget and revenue changes in California to a simple majority. Although some states have a two-thirds rule for either budget or revenue changes, California is the only state to require a two-thirds majority for both – a policy that often leads to gridlock.
California currently ranks 47th in per capita education spending but first in prison spending.
Director of the California Prison Moratorium Project Debbie Reyes, who participated with the march in Fresno, said many people in prison do not have a high school diploma.
“The state actually bases the number of prison buildings in an area on education levels,” Reyes said. “Right now we’re seeing a huge discord between funding for education and prisons.”
California state legislature approved a $7 billion increase in funds for prison expansion. These funds will have to be matched by individual counties to build and operate to prisons and according to Reyes hose funds are coming out of the education budget.
An English and labor studies professor at San Diego City College, Miller said he has definitely been seeing the impact of budget cuts on education.
“We’re having to shut students out of classes on a regular basis,” Miller said. “I think a lot of people in California just don’t realize the gravity of the situation.”
Reyes said education is vital in providing alternatives to incarceration and improving our lives.
“I really don’t understand why the legislators in this state don’t see that they’re eliminating our future job pool,” Reyes said.
The six core marchers started out as seven, but retired ESL teacher and former clinical social worker of 25 years Anna Graves had to drop out due to health reasons. The marchers have traveled over 350 miles since they began the march on March 5 and have attracted support around California.
Miller said one of the greatest things about the march is seeing thousands of people coming together for a common cause and bonding with his fellow marchers.
“We’re six people that have never met each other living in very close quarters,” Miller said. “We usually stay in motor homes – it’s a little like dorms on wheels.”
A detailed schedule of the march’s locations is available at fight4cafuture.com for those who wish to join the march.
JANE TEIXEIRA can be reached at email@example.com. XXX