SACRAMENTO (CBS / AP) — State schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson joined dozens of teachers, nurses and firefighters at a state Capitol rally Wednesday, the latest in a weeklong series of actions designed to pressure California lawmakers into raising taxes to avoid deep spending cuts to education.
Schools have experienced a cumulative $18 billion in budget cuts the past three years, lowering California’s per-pupil spending below most other states, according to Torlakson’s office.
He said more budget cuts would lead to larger class sizes, more dropouts, possibly a shorter school year, and a less-educated work force, which would hurt California’s economy.
The statewide week of demonstrations was organized by the California Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union. On Monday night, several dozen protesters were arrested after they refused to leave the Capitol.
On Wednesday, the union arranged 400 empty chairs in front of the state Capitol, each representing 100 teachers and other school employees who have lost their jobs to budget cuts over the past three years.
“What if there were an empty chair instead of that teacher being there for you when you needed that teacher?” Torlakson said during the rally. “Those chairs just don’t represent 100 teachers. They represent 100 dynamic forces in a child’s life.”
The state Department of Education said the 40,000 figure represented by the chairs includes 30,000 certified teachers and 10,000 teacher aides, clerks and other support staff.
Torlakson was joined by two of California’s five teachers-of-the-year for 2011. They urged lawmakers to call a special election so voters could decide whether to renew a series of tax increases that are about to expire.
Republican lawmakers so far have refused to support the extension of the recent tax increases, with some saying too much education money goes toward administration rather than the classroom.
They also say they hope to avoid more cuts to education by tapping into $2.5 billion in unexpected tax revenue that came to the state last month. They plan to offer other ways to close the state’s remaining $15.4 billion deficit without tax increases, as Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, readies a revised budget proposal to be released next week.
One teacher-of-the-year, Shannan Brown, said she was using her loud “teacher voice” as she lectured absent lawmakers on the need to continue income, sales and vehicle taxes as a first step to increasing school funding.
“Our children are our priority, and it is time that you act like it,” said Brown, who has taught fifth grade at Thomas Edison Elementary School in Sacramento for 12 years.
Teachers union President David A. Sanchez and San Francisco city and school leaders planned to honor 10 San Francisco teachers of the month before Wednesday night’s Giants baseball game.
The teachers were expected to wear jerseys with pink lettering, remembering more than 20,000 educators who received preliminary pink slips this spring.
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