Students, parents and teachers: March vs. education cuts

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Fifty students, parents and teachers spent their spring break marching from San Pablo to Sacramento in a “March 4 Education” to dramatize the financial plight of the West Contra Costa County School District. That school board decided to make up a $16.5 million budget deficit by eliminating high school sports, counselors, librarians and music programs.

All along the eight-day, 70-mile march, people cheered, cars honked, drivers brought food and offered a rest to the foot-sore. Marchers passed through three friendly towns, past pastures full of cattle, refineries belching pollution, and – most interesting to these marchers – a huge new prison in Vacaville.

“That big new shiny building looked like it stretched for miles, compared to my poor old school,” one student said. “They pay $25,000 a year for care for prisoners, how about me?”

At the University of California in Davis they were met by enthusiastic supporters and invited to take part in a ceremony destroying a piñata of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Arriving at the Capitol April 16, marchers joined 300 supporters in a spirited rally. Their three demands were that the governor forgive a 1991 loan to the West Contra Costa School District, which requires $1.8 million in yearly repayments; that the state fully fund Proposition 98, which would have provided $4 billion for schools until the governor cut the amount in half in his January budget proposal; and that school funding be equalized throughout the state.

Farm workers carried two banners in the rally, reminding participants that this youth march on the Capitol is partly the legacy of Cesar Chavez, who would have been proud of the action.

State Senate Majority Leader Don Perata (D-East Bay) urged participants, “Don’t just raise your voice here, but in your counties, your districts where some millionaires pay no taxes at all.”

Many marchers addressed the rally. A 10-year-old with feet aching from the march commented, “Governor, you said you wanted to give us money, but now you’re taking it away!” Another youngster added, “Arnold, you fool, why won’t you fund our school?”

Several speakers pointed to the root cause of the crises in education. One said, “If the wealthiest 5 percent of taxpayers paid the same percentage as the average taxpayer does, we’d have plenty of money for schools. And corporate taxes are lower now than they have ever been.”

Wendy, a teacher, said that she is “using exactly the same books to teach from that I used when I was a student.” A parent said, “Our feet are tired, but our souls are rested.”

“Listen to these children,” another teacher declared, “ they are our hearts talking.”

The governor has refused to meet with the marchers.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.