Cuts to educational state budget inspire students and staff to protest in California

U-Wire and U-Wire

Thousands of California public education students and staff swarmed the state Capitol Monday to protest cuts to education in the state budget. Chanting ‘they say cut back, we say fight back,’ more than 7,500 community college, University of California, California State University and grade school students and staff were present at the rally, said Dean Murakami, vice president of the California Federation of Teachers. He said the majority of the crowd was made up of community college students. Lucero Chavez, a student at Boalt Hall School of Law and president of the University of California Student Association, said a wide variety of people showed up to the event. ‘I think it was great,’ Chavez said. ‘I think this is just another day where students were really coming together.’ The event, organized by the Student Senate for California Community Colleges, came three days after the California Legislative Analyst’s Office reported an additional $8 billion shortfall in the state budget on Friday. The additional deficit is due to lower tax revenues than initially expected, according to Farra Bracht, principal fiscal and policy analyst for the office. Troy Carter, vice president of the student senate, said the protest aimed to prevent state legislators from making more cuts to higher education funding in order to bridge the new $8 billion gap. ‘We want to prevent the higher education institutions from being affected,’ he said. The newfound shortfall could add to the Feb. 20 revised state budget. ‘ which included $115 million in cuts to the UC system, $165 million to the CSU system and $40 million to community colleges. UC Berkeley’s ASUC is focusing on efforts to curb student fees in the long-run by supporting the College Affordability Act, according to ASUC External Affairs Vice President Dionne Jirachaikitti. The act would freeze UC student fees for five years, then allow for fee increases proportionate to inflation. Before the $8 billion shortfall was found, the state budget provided for a 3 percent increase in enrollment in the community college system. However, the system has already experienced a 10 percent increase in enrollment this year, Carter said. The decrease in state funding coupled with the increased enrollment rate has forced the system to cut teachers and classes, according to Carter. ‘These thousands of students compete for the same classes and what happens is you can only have about forty students in a class,’ he said. Murakami said in a struggling economy, people are more likely to go to community colleges for additional job training. ‘When the economy goes down, community college enrollment goes way up,’ he said. UC Davis librarian Axel Borg attributed the state’s previously successful economy to having a well-educated population. He said higher education cannot face more cuts if the economy is to recover. ‘With the state facing an additional $8 billion budget deficit just recently discovered, there’s going to be more cuts and they need to be not in the area of higher education,’ Borg said.