A series of actions aimed at stopping proposed budget cuts to higher education in California, culminated Monday in Sacramento, the state’s capital, with a huge rally in front of the statehouse, a massive grassroots lobbying effort, and a sit-in and people’s assembly in the Capitol itself. The protestors supported a Millionaire’s Tax that if enacted would generate an estimated $300 million to $500 million for higher education funding. They also wanted a more democratic approach to administering public universities that over the last 30 years have been run more and more like corporations.
The demonstration was supported by Students for Quality Education, Occupy Education, the California Faculty Association, and the California Federation of Teachers.
“Thousands of students, workers, faculty, and advocates stood together (Monday) to demand that the 1 percent pay its share to fund education,” said Charlie Eaton, an organizer with ReFund California, a community organization fighting to reverse state budget cuts that have taken a severe toll on education and health and social services. “After experiencing the highest tuition hikes in the country, students came to Sacramento to tell Gov. (Jerry) Brown, ‘enough is enough’.”
Over the last five years tuition at California’s public universities has doubled while student aid has declined. The San Jose Mercury reports that tuition at the state’s public universities is so high that it would be cheaper for a middle-class California family to send their children to an Ivy League college than to a state university.
Tuition has increased because state budget cuts to higher education have been relentless. Since the 2007-2008 school year, state funding for California’s public universities has declined by 20 percent. In the new budget, Gov. Brown is proposing $1.4 billion in budget cuts. The state currently spends nearly twice as much on prisons as it does on higher education.
The budget cuts are shifting more of the costs of higher education onto students and their families, and at the same time are diminishing the quality of the education. There are fewer classes, overcrowding in classes is more common, and students are finding it harder to enroll in courses they need to graduate, which in some cases delays their graduation.
While students are feeling the pain of budget cuts and higher tuition, administrators at the very highest levels haven’t suffered much. Last summer, a day after the California State Univerity Board of Regents announced a 12 percent tutition increase, it hired a new president at San Diego State and agreed to pay him $400,000 a year, $100,000 more than his predecessor, plus free housing.
The cuts are the result of declining state revenues, which is one reason that demonstrators back a proposed Millionaires Tax, which supporters are trying to get on a referendum ballot for next November. According to the California Federation of Teachers, the Millionaire Tax if adopted would increase taxes on income more than $1 million by 3 percent and for income more than $2 million by another 2 percent. Estimates are that the Millionaire Tax would raise $6 billion, money that could be used for education and health and social services.
Support for the Millionaires Tax was at the top of a list of demands formulated by demonstrators after they marched into the Capitol and set up a people’s assembly inside. They also supported full funding for higher education, an end to tutition hikes, and democratization of California’s public universities and their boards of regents.
“I absolutely believe that the Cal State system is becoming too corpratized,” said Student for Quality Education member Carie Rael to her school’s newspaper, the University of California at Fullerton Daily Titan. “It has been happening since the 1980s with the rise of administrative power and the lessening of full-time faculty. . . . Administrators are looking at (education) more like a corporate model.”
To demonstrate their anger at this shift to a corporate model, higher tuition, and the declining quality of public higher education, some of those at the people’s assembly decided to occupy the Capitol and began a sit-in. About 70 were forcibly removed and arrested by police early in the evening as other demonstrators left to catch buses back to their campuses.
As the occupiers waited to be arrested, they chanted, “They say cut back, we say fight back.”