School Beat: Taking Action in a State of Emergency

by Lisa Schiff on May 5, 2011

May is turning into a month of action on the part of public education supporters. From parent groups to the University of California system, teachers, administrators, parents, students and advocates will be engaged in a variety of actions to convey to elected officials and the public the seriousness of the financial crisis our schools are facing. Since the effort to get a vote on tax extensions onto a June ballot failed, there has been an eerie period of relative calm, but that is an illusory state, a quiet before the storm.

Schools, along with other critical services, have been left in a financial limbo where they must continue to operate, but must plan for unknown levels of cuts that may come in an unpredictable schedule, with unfamiliar, unacceptable changes to classrooms. Across the state, teachers are facing layoffs, class sizes are being increased, and program offerings are being reduced. Just recently in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), community members at the high school level were fighting to save a long-established music program and third year foreign language classes.

From the perspective of the education community, this fiscal chaos has reached a point of crisis sufficient to declare a state of emergency. And it is this level of alarm that needs to be conveyed to state representatives and senators, and their constituents. Actions throughout May are designed to accomplish just that task. The first of many events happens Friday in Northern California with a Senate Budget Committee hearing in Mountain View:

Senate Budget Committee Hearing
When: Friday, May 6, 10 a.m.
Where: Microsoft, Silicon Valley Campus, Microsoft Conference Center, Building 1, 1065 La Avenida, Mountain View, CA 94043

Chaired by San Francisco’s own Mark Leno, the hearing will be an opportunity to provide testimony regarding the tremendous impact of cuts to the K-12, Community College, CSU and UC systems. If you need a quick refresher on any of the specific cuts to your district, the parent advocacy group Parents for Great Education has developed a school funding map that allows you to get the estimated funding and staffing cuts if the tax extensions don’t go forward.

The “State of Emergency” was originally called by a broad-based education coalition, initiated by the California Teachers’ Association and supported by the Association of California School Administrators, California Association of School Business Officials, California Federation of Teachers, California Professional Firefighters, California School Board Association, California State Parent Teacher Association, Equal Justice Society and the National Education Association. That coalition is calling for a series of actions next week, beginning with legislative activities on Monday, May 9th.

Each subsequent day is focused on a particular strategy, from connecting with and education parents, to the traditional culminating rally at locations across the state on Friday. A variety of resources have been developed to support all of these actions. In addition to flyers, talking points, and lists of phone numbers for lobbying officials, a page has been created to both find and share information about events that are happening throughout the state. The message here is that the more events there are the better – a local event at your school or in your neighborhood is just as important as attending a large centralized event. Finally, our local teachers union, United Educators of San Francisco is organizing some San Francisco specific events and materials.

Though there are sure to be other intervening events, the next widely publicized event is being organized by Educate Our State. They have declared May 24th to be “Wake Up California” day and are mobilizing people across the state to “increase awareness of the crisis facing California public schools and the need for our legislators to pass the revenue extension measures needed to secure school funding.” Communities will be coming out across the state, from San Diego to Sacramento, with more events and locations being added all the time.

In San Francisco, activities will be focused around reaching folks during the 7:30-9:30 am commute time in three locations: Castro/Market, 24th/Mission, and Van Ness/McAllister. Anyone interested in helping to lead these events can contact Educate Our State to join in.

All of the events in May are absolutely essential, because all of these advocates are correct. There really is a state of emergency, and the only way to address it is to wake up California — and the nation. Between the pincers of financial starvation and the increasing Taylorization of instruction, our students are in jeopardy of receiving an education that is only reminiscent of what we know they require and deserve. The current privatization and fundamental reconfiguration of public education is occurring for the benefit of the individuals and companies behind those efforts, not the students in the classroom seats.

Lisa Schiff is the parent of two children in the San Francisco Unified School District and is a member of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco and the PTA.

Filed under: Archive

Translate »