Calif. students: “These budget cuts have got to go!”

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – “Youth apathetic? … Anyone who wakes up before dawn to drive across the state and rally at the capitol is not apathetic!” yelled one speaker at the March for Higher Education here on March 14. Not only did the estimated 12,000 students who assembled in front of the state capitol building travel from as far as Los Angeles (400 miles), but they marched through pouring rain to demand that public higher education be accessible and affordable to all qualified students.

Students remained upbeat, chanting “hey hey, ho ho, these budget cuts have got to go!” during their one-and-a-half mile march to the capitol, where K-12 supporters met them.

The focus of the rally was on the state budget and a compromise plan to extend temporary state taxes on income, sales and vehicles, but also to cut the California State University and University of California systems by $500 million each and raise tuition by 10 percent.

Democrats are asking that the tax extensions be placed on the ballot in a June special election. Republican legislators have consistently opposed other proposals to raise revenue, but even the tax extensions plan has run into obstruction from GOP minorities in each house. Students outside chanted “Let us vote!” to show their support for the tax extensions, fearing that if they are not passed higher education funding will be cut even more severely. If the extensions are passed K-12 education will not be cut.

According to the California State Student Association, in recent years California’s public higher education systems have experienced unpredictable fee increases, employee furloughs and layoffs, and now, for the first time in State University history, cuts in enrollment that deny access to qualified students. These actions have not gone unchallenged: large-scale protests and occupations have broken out across the state on campuses, city centers and at the capitol.

Photo: At the parking lot where the student protesters gathered before the march.