Students march for higher education

LISTENING: Speaker of the Assembly John A. Perez, above right, and Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, above left, watch the protests. PHOTO BY ELIANA ROMERO

Thousands of college students from all over the state marched for higher education towards the State Capitol in Sacramento on Monday, March 5.

Over 5,000 students from California State Universities, University of California and community colleges coming from as far as Southern California united together to protest the budget cuts being passed by legislation.

The student turnout this year was lower compared to previous years, as just last year there were over 13,000 participants in the rally. Despite the lower turnout there was still a highly intense crowd of students and teachers that had to be guarded by dozens of police officers and student peace keepers.

Some students wore t-shirts made specifically for the march while others went all out, wearing face masks, military gear and plastic garbage cans as a shield.

While marching from Southside Park to the State Capitol students held up signs and banners and chanted, “hear us out or we’ll vote you out,” “fund our future,” and “si se puede [yes we can]!”

Students were fighting for three things. They want the government to tax the one percent of millionaires so that those funds can go to higher education. They want free education for all students and to eliminate student debt. And they want the government to provide education to those incarcerated in state jails.

“It’s frustrating about the budget cuts because coming from a family that has low income it is not the easiest thing to pay for a UC education,” said UCLA student, Talata Mirmalek. “It’s also good to know that there are organizations that have diverse groups from all over the state. It’s a really unifying factor that we are all here in support of the same thing.”

The California Student Association, University of California Student Association, and the Student Senate for California Community Colleges planned and led the march.

According to the California Budget Act there has been an estimated $2 billion dollar cut in community college and university funding for the 2011-12 school year.

The budget resulted in having over $500 million cut for Community Colleges and over a $750 million cut for both the UC and CSU system.
For San Joaquin County the cut was over $6.5 million which resulted in reduced enrollment, fewer classes being offered and fewer students being served.

There are an estimated 3.4 million students currently attending a community college, CSU or UC campus.

“The fees have quadrupled in the last decade while the median income has remained flat. You can’t make this stuff up,” said Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. “It’s devastating because the backbone of education is the 2.7 million students in community colleges as well as our workforce development system.”

Fee increases to date are to increase from $26 per unit to $36 per unit which was initially going to bring in an estimated $110 million in revenue. But since that will not bring in enough revenue, legislation is increasing the fees to $46 per unit.

Speaker of the Assembly John A. Perez said, “UC fees have gone up 191 percent and CSU fees have gone up 145 percent. There are so many students that are struggling to get by.”

Perez proposed a bill called the Middle-Class Scholarship that will cut fees for middle-class students by two-thirds. It will reduce UC tuition by $8,200 a year and CSU tuition by $4,000 a year. It will also give $130 million to the community colleges.

“As the assembly and the Senate we are going to fight to make sure that we keep our promise to California students and families,” said Perez.
While the public officials were speaking the students kept chanting, “Show us! Show us!”

Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said, “You have the right to be mad. Too many people are getting big tax breaks while the cost of higher education for you is going way up. We are going to show you! You are right!”

“Look the worst thing we can do is promise things we can’t deliver,” said Steinberg.

He mentioned several measures that can bring students and families relief during this economic crisis.

Among these are bills that would provide more funding for higher education and make textbooks more affordable.

“I got up to this mic today and I said I have participated in making billions of dollars of cuts in higher education and I’ve hated every minute of it,” said Steinberg. “I got into public office for one reason, to do everything I can to insure people have the same opportunities I’ve had in life. It’s a tough time but we will get through it.”