As public education becomes victim of economic downturn in California, students and teachers take to the streets
Rowdy protesters blocked major gates at two California universities and smashed the windows of a car Thursday amid campus protests across the nation against deep cuts in education funding.
Protesters at the University of California, Santa Cruz surrounded the car while its driver was inside.
The uninjured driver was not trying to get onto campus and appeared to have been singled out at random, Santa Cruz police Capt. Steve Clark said.
University provost David Kliger said there were reports of protesters carrying clubs and knives, but Clark could not confirm those reports.
No arrests had been made at the school.
An advisory posted on its Web site urged people to avoid the campus because of safety concerns. It also said protesters had photographed the license plate of a staff member trying to enter the campus.
Marches, strikes, teach-ins and walkouts were planned nationwide in what was being called the March 4th National Day of Action for Public Education.
Organizers said hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and parents were expected to participate in the demonstrations.
Some university officials said they supported the protests as long as they remained peaceful.
“My heart and my support are with everybody and anybody who wants to stand up for public education,” University of California President Mark Yudof said in a statement. “Public education drives a society’s ability to progress and to prosper.”
At the University of California, Berkeley, a small group of protesters formed a human chain blocking a main gate leading to the campus. Later in the day, hundreds more gathered for a peaceful rally against major cuts to higher education funding.
“We’re one of the largest economies in the world, and we can’t fund the basics,” said Mike Scullin, 29, a graduate student in education who plans to become a high school teacher. “We’re throwing away a generation of students by defunding education.”
The steep economic downturn has forced states to slash funding to K-12 schools, community colleges and universities to cope with plummeting tax revenue.
Experts said schools and colleges could face more severe financial trouble over the next few years as they drain federal stimulus money that temporarily prevented widespread layoffs and classroom cuts.
Protest actions were held at most of the 10 University of California campuses, 23 California State University campuses and many of the state’s 110 community colleges.
Demonstrations were also planned at universities in New York, Wisconsin, Alabama, Michigan and Massachusetts.
Students, teachers, parents and school employees from across California gathered in Sacramento for a midday rally at the Capitol to urge lawmakers to restore funding to public schools.
Linda Wall, a state Department of Mental Health employee, said she had two children attending Sacramento State University. Hikes in student fees and mandatory furloughs for state workers have strained her budget.
“Their tuition has taken a big chunk of my paycheck and my paycheck is shrinking, so it’s a double whammy,” Wall said.
Large regional rallies were planned at San Francisco Civic Center, Pershing Square in Los Angeles, Balboa Park in San Diego and public plazas in other cities.
Education cuts have been particularly devastating in California, which has been grappling with massive budget shortfalls for the past two years.
In response to a 20 percent reduction in state funding, the University of California and California State University systems have imposed furloughs on faculty and staff, sharply reduced course offerings, turned away thousands of qualified students and raised tuition by more than 30 percent.
“You’re paying more and you’re getting less for it,” said Katelyn Rauch, a senior majoring in political science at California State University, Channel Islands. “Classes are being cut, students aren’t able to graduate on time, entire majors are being closed.”
California’s K-12 schools were preparing to lay off tens of thousands of teachers, pack more students into classrooms and scrap many academic programs because of deteriorating finances.
Many of the demonstrations Thursday were being organized by student groups, faculty associations and employee unions that often have a contentious relationship with the universities.
Associated Press Writers Marcus Wohlsen in San Francisco and Robin Hindery in Sacramento contributed to this report.
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