Sunday, May 15, 2011

State of Emergency Declared for Public School Funding

First published in EchoParkPatch on 2011-05-15

"Please don't punish our teachers for their hard work!" — Nathaniel Farley (LAUSD Student 2011-05-13)

Keep the PUBLIC in public schools and libraries
Miguel Contreras Learning Complex is a neighboring school on the corners of 3rd Street and Lucas Avenue. From there teachers, students, community leaders, and parents held a press conference declaring a State of Emergency in regards to the debilitating funding crisis that has seen $22 billion in cuts to California's K-12 schools, which includes over $1.9 billion in cuts to LAUSD alone.

The press conference was the culmination a week of actions that preceded a march past LAUSD headquarters on Beaudry Avenue and ended at a rally of several thousands of demonstrators at Pershing Square. Similar rallies and pickets were held Statewide.

One teacher explained that the chaos a Reduction In Force notice (RIF, a layoff notice) causes doesn't compare to having had to tell her students who were devastated they wouldn't see her again next year. She explained this is her third RIF notice in the last two years.

Echo Parque's very own Eva Rivas, a Logan Avenue ES mom, spoke passionately against the cuts and in support of teachers. Rivas is very active in our community on education issues, and was an early supporter of the LD4 and Echo Park Community Partners Design Team Plan.

Perhaps the most powerful speaker was student Nathaniel Farley, who discussed how many teachers he and his classmates have lost over the past years, and how his classes have grown in size. Farley discussed seeing elective classes being eliminated, and finished his speech with the poignant plea to lawmakers:

"Please don't punish our teachers for their hard work!"

Officers of the working class organization United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) provided some important facts. Betty Forester noted that the cuts directly corresponded to ever increasing class sizes. A.J. Duffy noted that "California ranks at the bottom of all 50 states in the ratios of teachers, school counselors, librarians, and nurses to students.

Think about that last statement. California's economy is the eighth largest economy in the world, but ranks at the bottom in student to education worker ratio. The California Teachers Association is calling on all of us to demand lawmakers pass the tax extensions to prevent deeper cuts. But the tax extensions, many of which are regressive, are just a beginning of what real budget justice would look like in California. According to the California Budget Project, the bottom fifth of California income earners pay 11.7%, while the top one percent only pay 7.1%. Just raising the rate of the top to equal that of the bottom would make this discussion moot.

Locally, the privatization friendly school board has used to the ongoing budget cuts to lay off more public school teachers while giving schools away to privately run corporate charter schools. Charters drain much needed money and resources out of LAUSD, exacerbating the problems of public schools. Outgoing District 5 Board Trustee Yolie Flores has actually been known to relish laying off public school teachers. When community members and teachers held hunger strikes in June of 2009, she mocked those individuals by saying:

"Yolie Flores Aguilar once said to me and others during the hunger strike that the threat of "recall" was not going to work on her, that not passing the budget would put the many progressive programs this school board has put into effect in jeopardy, like "all day kindergarten", and that her passion for public education cannot be questions. [sic]"

Here are three ways we can all support those fighting the budget cuts and exposing the State of Emergency in our public schools and public services.

  1. Call Lawmakers and Urge Them to Support Governor Brown's Temporary Tax Extension
  2. Vote Tuesday for LAUSD candidate Bennet Kayser who opposes both the budget cuts and the giving away of our public schools to privately operated corporate charter schools
  3. Contact LAUSD and demand they stop hiring anti-public school executives like Maria Casillas for six figure salaries and to stop firing Librarians.

Until we organize and begin to demand budget justice, a progressive tax structure, and an end to tax cuts for the obscenely wealthy, we will be fighting a constant State of Emergency, just as Naomi Klein points out in her book The Shock Doctrine.


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