School Beat: Resist the Governor and Protest the Budget

by Lisa Schiff on April 17, 2008

California’s budget deadline is looming, posing a potential crisis of huge magnitude for our state’s public schools, should it pass as it currently stands. Governor Schwarzenegger continues to eye a $4 billion public education cut to help winnow down a near $17 billion dollar shortfall. By mid-May, he is meant to submit a revised budget, updated with more accurate revenue and deficit projections. This modified version is what the legislature is supposed to vote on come June 15th.

That gives public education supporters just shy of a month to ramp up the pressure on our elected officials, especially the Governor, making it clear that this ill-conceived, malevolent and irresponsible budget is unacceptable. And ramp up, we must.

Despite protests from voters all over the state, accompanied by analysis from elected officials and advocates, the Governor remains firm so far on placing the burden of the state’s fiscal problems on school children and the poor. As yet, he appears deaf to the call that the budget needs must be borne fairly, and if fairly, then proportionally by those who have enjoyed the benefits of loopholes and preferential treatment. More treacherously, Schwarzenegger is refusing to consider reinstatement of certain fees, tax increases, and loophole closures that would eliminate almost the entire budget gap.

Although it is hard not to still be stunned by the audacity of Schwarzenegger’s plans, public school supporters around the state are not allowing ourselves to be paralyzed, and instead have been working hard to mount an effective defense against this attack in order to defeat this budget. Over the last several months, and continuing on, public education supporters have been engaged in a variety of efforts to challenge the Governor and turn him around. We have no choice but to continue in these activities, until a budget is signed that we can live with.

To that end, we must continue to communicate the message to our local elected officials that we need their leadership and advocacy in Sacramento. We need them to be our education champions now more than ever. In the Bay Area, we are very lucky to have state representatives who unanimously condemn the raid on public schools, so don’t need convincing of the argument. They may however, need to be reminded that education support has to be at the top of the list of issues when we are in such dangerous times. In return, we need to show up to support our local leaders when they do organize for us.

For instance, this Saturday, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma is leading a march in San Francisco commemorating Cesar Chavez that will focus on public education as a social justice issue. People will gather at 11am at 24th and Harrison Streets in the Mission District. Although there is a certain appeal to such an event, it also feels like too little, too late. We can organize marches; we need our legislators to focus on the policy and legislative strategies that will safeguard our schools. Still, for those attending, this could be an opportunity to meet with Ma to encourage her to push education issues to the top of the agenda.

Apart from speaking with legislators, we must communicate with the Governor directly and let him feel how painful this is. He cannot be allowed to remain impervious to the repercussions of his actions. Many schools have or are organizing postcard campaigns, in which parents sign individual postcards protesting the budget, and then those postcards are delivered en masse to the Governor’s office in San Francisco or Sacramento. This strategy can only help and is relatively easy to get going.

Tomorrow, Friday April 18th, students around the state will be responding to a call from YouthNoise to take action and organize their own events in response to the budget. Rumor has it that San Francisco students will be making their opinions about the budget known at a rally on Friday at Dolores Park from 12:44 to 1:30pm. Parents and other adults can support our kids as they take matters into their own hands, particularly helping with the YouthNoise idea of recording these events and sharing them on the web in order to generate a snowball effect.

Parents and community supporters can join the PTA’s “Flunk the Budget” campaign. One component of the campaign is to have actions on Fridays, when legislators are in their districts. The San Francisco PTA is calling for such an action this Friday, April 18th, nicely coinciding with the YouthNoise day of actions, asking everyone to call their representatives, but especially the Governor:

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
Sacramento Office: 916-445-2841
San Francisco Office: 415-703-2218
Email WebForm: http://www.gov.ca.gov/interact#email

Senator Leland Yee
Sacramento Office: (916) 651-4008
San Francisco Office: (415) 557-7857
Email WebForm: http://legplcms01.lc.ca.gov/PublicLCMS/ContactPopup.aspx?district=SD08

Senator Carole Migden
Sacramento Office: (916) 651-4003
San Francisco Office: (415) 557-1300
Email WebForm: http://legplcms01.lc.ca.gov/PublicLCMS/ContactPopup.aspx?district=SD03

Assemblymember Fiona Ma
Sacramento Office: (916) 319-2012
San Francisco Office: (415) 557-2312
Email WebForm: http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/members/a12/

Assemblymember Mark Leno
Sacramento Office: (916) 319-2013
San Francisco Office: (415) 557-3013
Email WebForm: http://democrats.assembly.ca.gov/members/a13/capitol.htm

Those who participated in a similar campaign in 2005 will no doubt remember the hostility and aggression of the Governor’s staffers answering the phones. Be ready to counter this with a cheat sheet of some quick key facts. For instance, the fact that California is near the bottom of the list on education funding, currently spending, according to the PTA, about $2,000 less per student than the national average.

Another central point to mention is that there are viable revenue enhancement alternatives to cutting essential services. Those alternatives, nicely articulated by the California Federation of Teachers, include reinstating the vehicle license fee ($6 billion per year) and raising taxes on the top tax bracket ($2.5 billion). And of course the most significant change of all would be reforming Proposition 13 so that corporate entities no longer enjoy the protection afforded to individual home owners.

We should also know that we are not alone. Although the K-12 budget gets the most of the minimal media attention, community colleges, the state university system, and the University of California system are all facing tremendous cuts as well and each of these sectors has been continually lobbying and mobilizing its own community and working in partnership at the leadership level.

Although California’s budgets are not known for passing on time, we don’t have anytime to spare—let’s keep the pressure on!

Lisa Schiff is the parent of two children who attend McKinley Elementary School in the San Francisco Unified School District and is a member of Parents for Public Schools of San Francisco and the PTA and is a board member at the national level of Parents for Public Schools.

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