The “Caravan for Kids” rally at the State Capitol last Thursday in Sacramento drew several thousand parents and children from around the state to demand adequate funding for public schools.
Among them were several dozen Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) parents and students who staged a rally Wednesday at Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office in downtown Los Angeles (see related story, this page) before traveling to Sacramento.
Members of Santa Monica’s Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS) and the local PTA were among the principal organizers of the rally, doing everything from setting the Caravan agenda to having placards printed in order to help the California Parent Teachers Association move to the forefront on the school funding issue.
Though the Sacramento rally had to compete with a televised presidential news conference, its effort to secure more funding for public schools got statewide news coverage.
Once the best in the nation, California’s public schools now rank among the worst (see related story, page 10).
“Never before has the state PTA done anything like this rally,” organizer Lynn Leavitt said on the long bus ride home. “The PTA traditionally has been very, very nonpartisan, and they’ve never done a Capitol steps rally like this.”
Santa Monican Dennis Zane said CEPS had offered to help the California PTA to spread the SMMUSD parents’ playbook to the rest of the state.
The only Santa Monica resident to speak at the rally was Nick Kennerly, a fourth grade student at Franklin School. Standing at the microphone on the north steps of the Capitol building, he made the news on television stations from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
He said, “Hello, everyone! My name is Nick and I’m in the fourth grade at Franklin Elementary School. I’ve been involved in Student Committee at my school for the last two years, first as a class representative, then Secretary and finally President. When I was running for President, I wrote in my speech that I was going to make Franklin the best school ever. My mom told me to make sure I didn’t promise anything I couldn’t deliver.
“Ever since I was a little kid, my parents have taught me that keeping promises is one of the most important things I can do. They told me that if I didn’t keep my promises, people wouldn’t believe a thing I said after that.
“Last year, Governor Schwarzenegger made a promise to schools. He made a promise to me. He said he would pay back the money he borrowed from schools – not in fifteen years, but in the next year. The Governor needs to keep his promise. We all do!”
Serendipitously, the day of the rally the news broke that not only were statewide approval rankings for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger dropping, due, in part, to Californians’ disenchantment with his handling of public schools, but former L.A. mayor Richard Riordan announced that he was resigning from his post as Schwarzenegger’s education secretary.
The Public Policy Institute of California’s poll shows 47 percent of the state’s electorate disapproving of the governor’s job performance, versus 45 percent approval. It’s the first time the nonpartisan statewide poll has shown him with negative marks. The governor’s approval rating on education matters has fallen to 51 percent.
Organizers and strategists from Santa Monica and Malibu modeled their statewide push for increased funding on successful local campaigns to pass an SMMUSD parcel tax to preserve arts education and other essential services, and secure an annual $6 million allocation from the City of Santa Monica to the District.
The Sacramento rally was opened by the Elk Grove High School marching band, which faces disbanding next year when that northern California School district cuts its arts programs in response to state funding cuts.
Large contingents of students and parents from the Bay Area schools traveled to Sacramento for the noontime rally.
Los Angeles TV coverage used the rally to illustrate the governor’s sinking poll numbers.
According to its organizers, the rally was timed to build support for pro-school legislators as they begin May budget revisions that could restore some funding cuts, given larger income tax receipts than the lawmakers anticipated.
Neither Assembly member Fran Pavley nor State Senator Sheila Kuehl, who represent this area, attended the rally.
A recent RAND Corporation study showed that education has categorically fallen behind police, fire, corrections and hospitals in state funding commitments in the last 25 years.
The midday rally garnered about 2,000 participants and an equal number of spectators, but it was pointedly avoided by a large group of touring schoolchildren from an evangelical school.Malibu resident Laetz is a parent who has a child in a District school and writes for the Malibu Times.