Thousands rally for statewide 'Day of Action' against education cuts

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Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

Protestors gather in downtown Los Angeles to rally against cuts to public schools and universities.

Across the state, tens of thousands of people took part in rallies to protest expected cuts to public education. Two major protests took place in the Southland.

Hundreds of people attended a Cal State Northridge rally organized by the university’s faculty union.

Like other Cal State schools, this campus has raised student fees nearly one thousand dollars a year to close a funding gap. Psychology major Preston Sobel said it’s a struggle to come up with the money. "I work and I borrow money. I basically borrow it from friends, family, loans, anything I can get my hands on. Whatever source is available."

Passions ran high at the Northridge rally. Police arrested several people after a couple of dozen protestors overran a nearby intersection. At the Southland’s other major rally, in downtown L.A., people waved picket signs, and held up homemade banners, while many teachers and school employees proudly wore their labor union’s logos on shirts and hats.

Alhambra teacher Joyce Loo showed up, she said, to protest the new normal: underfunded classroom instruction. "We’re already asking parents to donate supplies. They’re not giving us any construction paper so it’s very difficult for children to do art projects without paper. How do you function without paper in a school, it’s not possible."

Some people who’d been laid off in previous years also showed up to protest.

L.A. Unified School District nurse Linda Shields said her colleagues won’t be spared this year. The district plans to send preliminary layoff notices this month to more than a hundred district nurses. "We’re really the first line of defense for the children when they’re ill, sick, disaster. So we’re here to support not only nursing but teachers and all the other health and human services that are in jeopardy of being eliminated."

Hundreds of high school students marched from nearby campuses. Some parents accompanied their grade-school age kids.

Students, teachers and concerned citizens got together today to protest educational budget cuts. They rallied at Pershing Square and then marched to the State Building.

Juliette Martinez said she showed up as a proud graduate of Pasadena City College, UCLA and Cal State Northridge. "I’ve got my baby here today and I want him to have a great education here in California. We used to have the best education system in the world and we need to have that again."

Protestors’ chants echoed as they marched four blocks to the Ronald Reagan State Building. Once there, state labor union leader Michael Bilbrey reminded demonstrators that the building symbolized the culprit behind multi-billion dollar cuts to public schools and universities.

"It’s time for our legislators to be held accountable. And each and every one of us needs to step up to the plate to hold them accountable. If they can’t do the job, we’re going to put somebody in who will," he said.

Loyola Marymount University professor Marta Baltodano doesn’t hold out hope that the protests will change the Sacramento budget process. She said she did hope that the protests spark a deeper public debate.

"I think the protests are necessary to raise the level of consciousness about what is this aspect of society that we are pushing down in a way that might compromise what has been one of the greatest traditions of American society that is public schooling," Baltodano said.

The rallies seemed to inject some energy as morale among educators sinks on many campuses – although they and their students have to return to their classrooms today.

(Natalie Yemenidjian contributed to this report)

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