SAN FRANCISCO (CBS / AP) – Thousands of California teachers rallied in cities throughout the state Friday to demonstrate against the threat of deep education cuts and to appeal to Republican lawmakers to raise tax revenue for public schools.
There were major demonstrations at the state Capitol, where more than two dozen teachers were arrested Thursday night, and in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Bernardino.
“The potential budget cuts are just insane,” Alameda Education Association president Patricia Sanders said. “We’re possibly looking at cutting 20 days off a child’s school year, down from 180 days to 160 days.”
Schools across the state could cumulatively lose an estimated $4 billion in funding annually without the tax extensions, according to the CTA.
“There’s a demand in our culture to make sure no child is left behind in education,” Sanders said. “But how can we do that if we’re continually under-funding education?”
“Education can’t take these cuts anymore,” said Joyce Medeiros, 48, one of at least 1,000 teachers, students and supporters who filled Civic Center Plaza in San Francisco.
The sixth-grade teacher at San Juan School in San Juan Bautista, where K-3 classes now have 32 students, used to be a PE teacher before the district cut physical education, art and music programs.
“We’ve taken our cuts. It’s time to look for other solutions,” she said.
Friday evening’s demonstrations marked an end to a weeklong series of protests organized by the California Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union.
Educators are trying to pressure GOP lawmakers to support Gov. Jerry Brown’s attempt to extend a series of temporary increases in the sales, vehicle and income taxes. Without those, the governor has warned of deep cuts to public schools that could force thousands of teacher layoffs, larger class sizes and a shorter school year.
But Assembly Republicans countered with their own budget proposal this week in which they propose to spend about $2 billion from an unanticipated $2.5 billion in tax revenues on schools, which they say would leave them fully funded.
Education lobbyists, however, noted that the GOP’s budget plan would suspend a $450 million annual payment that funds programs in some of the state’s neediest school districts.
On Monday, Brown is scheduled to release his updated plan to close California’s remaining $15.4 billion deficit.
Most of the demonstrations Friday had a festive atmosphere, with musicians performing and demonstrators blowing whistles, chanting and playing games. Signs reading “Tax the Rich” and “Bail out schools not banks” were common.
More than 2,000 demonstrators clad in colorful T-shirts gathered at the Capitol, which has been the focal point of the week’s protests. They were ringed by a strong law enforcement presence a day after 27 teachers were arrested for refusing to leave the inside of the Capitol, a misdemeanor. Earlier in the week, 65 people were arrested on similar charges, although most were not teachers.
Among those arrested Thursday night was California Teachers Association President David Sanchez, who told the crowd in Sacramento that spending the night in jail was a bonding moment for him and the other teachers.
“It is so sad that teachers have to go this far to get the attention of lawmakers. Very sad,” Sanchez said. “But I and my fellow colleagues, we do not regret our decision. I do not regret one moment of what I did and what they did.”
He led chants of “We are one” and “Si se puede.”
Inge Schlussler, 46, kindergarten teacher at Edgewater Elementary School in Marysville, was holding a sign that said “Merit Pay for Assemblymen,” a play on the political movement to hold teachers accountable for student test scores.
“Our representatives need to show that they merit their jobs. They need to do their jobs by us, not by the people that own them,” said Schlussler, who received a pink slip last school year that was later rescinded.
In San Diego, more than 1,000 people gathered at a downtown waterfront park, where a grassy area was festooned with more than 4,100 small pink flags — the number of layoff notices that union leaders say were issued in a five-county region of Southern California. They are among 20,000 layoff notices that have been issued statewide ahead of the school year that begins in September.
Alma Tidwell, 44, said she was among 17 teachers who got pink slips at Central Elementary School in San Diego. It’s difficult for her to imagine classroom conditions if the layoffs are not rescinded.
“It will be more managing the classroom and maybe a little less learning,” said Tidwell, a preschool teacher with five years’ seniority.
Among the thousands of teachers and other supporters who turned out in Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles was Vincent Precht. The 53-year-old elementary school special education teacher has not faced a threat of layoff but showed solidarity with his colleagues who have by wearing a woman’s pink slip.
He said that in his 25 years with the Los Angeles district, he has never seen such a “terrible anti-teacher, anti-union” atmosphere.
Don Zengierski, a seventh-grade English and history teacher who has been a teacher at Los Angeles Unified for 23 years, said he believes the arrests this week help bring attention to the teachers’ fight.
“It shows that we are all willing to sacrifice, that we’re not going to just roll over,” Zengierski said.
United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy called on teachers, school officials, Republicans and Democrats to set aside their differences and focus on passing the tax extensions.
“If you (Republicans) don’t pass the tax extension, you will be destroying the education for every child in the state of California. We ask you, how can you do that?” Duffy said.
The CTA is lobbying lawmakers to pass the tax extensions outright, but the governor continues to favor a solution that involves voter approval.
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