In May 2009, the state cut $18 billion in school funding, according to the California Department of Education. On July 10, 2009, Jack O’Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction, announced a delay in a $4 billion payment. “The delay of this school funding payment is a consequence of California’s economic crisis and our very serious cash shortage,” O’Connell explained. How enlightening.
Then, in September 2009, the University of California tuition rise wreaked havoc. According to Time Magazine, not only were UCs burned by a 20 percent cutback from state funds, but student fees increased by 32 percent; in the 2010 school year, the UC system has no choice but to eliminate $637 million dollars from its budget.
Eight months later, supporters of public education took a stand in cities from Humboldt to San Diego and even across the nation: With the slogan “March Forth on March 4th,” Thursday was called the “March 4th Day of Action to Defend Public Education.” In Santa Barbara, teachers, administrators, parents, and students marched from De la Guerra Plaza to the Santa Barbara County Courthouse in a rally against the accumulation of budget cuts.
Once at the courthouse, 200-plus people gathered to listen to speakers including former mayor Marty Blum, Santa Barbara City Councilmember (and California State Assembly candidate) Das Williams, and students from UCSB and SBCC. “We need to make this personal!” a UCSB Coalition student roared. “We are no longer statistics and we are no longer dollar signs!” She urged everyone in the crowd to send personal stories to state legislators. Another student shouted, “Education is not the problem, it’s the solution!” after she pointed out that for every one dollar invested in education, three dollars come out.
Santa Barbara’s may not have been the attention-grabbing demonstration of 150 students who flooded the Interstate 880 near downtown Oakland, nor was it like the 300 UC Davis students who attempted to block an onramp. Santa Barbara’s protest was just as you might imagine: Kids playing tag in the Sunken Gardens while rally-goers chant. It was as it should be: Nothing fancy.
As I learned in a political science class, public involvement in government has greatly decreased over the past decade. Why try if your chances are slim, right? In reality, if a third of California’s population tries to change something, chances are no longer slim. Rather, efforts become close to unstoppable. State government will continue to cut public education budgets if California citizens fail to produce a voice. It’s logic. So, the movement that began this past Thursday needs to gain momentum. California’s economy is vital to not only the nation but the world, and public education must be solid in order to maintain that. State government can no longer regard public education as the path of least resistance to cutting state spending. The people of the state won’t let it.