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Caravan for Kids Protests School Budget Cuts:

Chants of “every child, one voice” were heard last Wednesday at Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Los Angeles office, as education advocates and their children from Santa Monica and Los Angeles protested his proposed education budget cuts.

The downtown rally was organized by Santa Monica’s Community For Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) because the proposed reduced budget, in CEPS’ words, “breaks his promise to restore Proposition 98 funding, provides inadequate funding overall and will force deep cuts in public schools statewide. Proposition 98 was affirmed by the voters to guarantee in the state constitution a minimum level of funding for our schools. This proposed budget cuts education funding below those minimal levels.”

The rally in downtown L.A. kicked off CEPS’ “Caravan for Kids,” a two-day, statewide mobilization of parents and kids from Eureka to San Diego to protest the budget in conjunction with PTAs statewide (See related story, this page).

Santa Monica parents and children gathered early Wednesday morning in the Civic Auditorium parking lot to board buses for the trip downtown.

Former Santa Monica Mayor Denny Zane stated at the rally that “A pattern of neglect and broken promises that stretches for more than 25 years has culminated most recently in a proposed state budget built on broken promises to our kids and the scapegoating of our teachers. What we need is a new agenda for excellence. We want the governor and the legislature to support raising student achievement and per pupil funding so they are in the top 10 among the nation’s states in 10 years. It’s time for the Governor and the legislature to join us.”

Another rally speaker, Patty Scripter, the PTA Council President in Glendale, said, “Every day our schools deal with lack of nurses, lack of counselors, lack of books and basic classroom materials. Educational enrichment programs that used to be considered integral are now considered luxuries the state feels it’s okay for our children to forgo everywhere in our state. The Governor and the legislature must meet the responsibility for California’s children on whose success the future of California rests.”

Los Angeles Unified School District’s incoming 10th District President Scott Folsom described the state of his alma mater Marshall High School now reeling “under the successive years of budget cuts. It was once one of the premiere high schools in the nation” and was often used as a backdrop for movies and television shows. “Now it houses more than twice its intended capacity of students. The students share textbooks across its multi-track calendar. Class sizes are huge and the 75-year-old treasure cries out for paint and maintenance.”

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s PTA President Maria Rodriguez pointed out that because “California public schools are seriously under-funded,” the PTA is “trying to fill the gap, not to provide the extras, not to try to improve our schools, not even to maintain the status quo. So much has been cut that there is no way to even do that. We have made ourselves into a world-class fundraising machine just to keep the schools surviving. Schools in our District are asking parents for money to fund everything from salaries, librarians, school nurses, playground structures, computers, even entire programs. Some schools’ parents are able to help and others cannot, therefore, by chronically under-funding our schools the state is forcing us into a two tier system.”

Northwest Valley PTA Council member Cheri Osbourne stated that the legislature is asking the wrong questions. “Like how much can we cut … how much more can we trim and how much more can we expect from our children and much less money can we give them to meet our expectations.”

Before boarding the bus in Santa Monica Wednesday morning for the rally downtown, Barbara Inatsugu, a grandmother, told the Mirror this is the “first time there has been a networking of PTAs around the state because the environment is different. There’s a feeling of betrayal and anger that has brought the state PTAs together.”

The Chair of Santa Monica’s District Advisory Committee on Childcare and Development, Gleam Davis, stated she was participating in the caravan because she believes “It’s fundamental to give children better than we got, not worse than what we got.”

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education member Oscar De La Torre told the Mirror after the rally that it’s “A crime that California’s public educational system is now competitive with the poorest states in the nation. There’s only one way to go and that’s up. A quality education is the best way to reconcile social and economic inequalities. It’s the ultimate solution to many social issues including crime, health and homelessness. We need to fund public education to bring hope to our youth. It’s a down payment on our future.”After the downtown rally, most members of the Santa Monica contingent boarded a bus to continue on to the Thursday rally on the State Capitol steps in Sacramento.

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