Reflections on March 4 Day of Action for Education

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The March 4 Day of Action for Education was not typical.  The rallies and marches were some of the largest I have seen and certainly the most diverse I have seen in Oakland.  Families, young students, high school students, college students, parents, librarians, and teachers of all stripes came out in droves.  The enthusiasm was palpable and the understanding of the issues and what is at stake was articulate.

On Thursday I joined the Fruitvale contingent, which began with a rally at the Fruitvale BART plaza consisting mostly of high school students  from East Bay high schools.  The march picked up teachers and parents along the route down E. 14th to downtown Oakland, where it merged with the Laney walk-out and others converging at City Hall.  See my report on Oakland Local the Fruitvale contingent of the day’s events.  See more photos.

A few points stood out for me:

1)The connection was repeatedly drawn between our broken education system and our broken revenue and budget process in CA.  Revoking or adjusting Prop. 13 addresses one aspect of the revenue problem and movements to change the 2/3 requirement to a majority in order to pass a budget addresses the other.  The decades old Prop. 13 has been untouchable, but is currently being approached by proposed legislation to amend parts of it rather than throw it out wholesale, while the “majority rule” constitutional amendment might be on the ballot this year (Californians For Democracy–sign the petition).  Those are a couple tangible mechanisms we all need to get behind.  The other is to make oil companies pay there fair share.  Texas and Alaskans tax their oil companies.  California let’s them off the hook–it is the only oil-producing state that doesn’t have a specific oil tax.  Legislation is working its way through that would directly tie a proposed new oil severance tax to funding higher education.

2)Both signs and speakers profiled the contrast between spending/waste on war and spending on domestic needs.  In addition to the wars/occupations, which are costing some $10 billion a month, we are funding the single largest military budget in history. Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimates a total $3 trillion price tag in the long-term.  Oakland’s share is nearly $900 million just for 2010. That amount could give 100,000 students a scholarship to attend university for a year.  Go to National Priorities to see how much your community spends to fund on-going militarism. Since 2001, Oakland’s share of the funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is $1.3 billion.  Who here would rather see that go to education, health-care, and green economy?

3)The message of investing in education and creating jobs, not jails.  Some numbers are striking, like the contrast between the amount spent to keep someone in prison vs. keeping someone in school.  In California, the average amount spent on keeping 1 person in jail/year = $50,000.  The amount spent per pupil/year = $7,500.

Californians are approaching the bottom in terms of education spending and outcomes in the United States, which itself is behind many industrialized countries.  That California is one of the world’s largest economies but as a state ranks near last in education spending per pupil, one can be none other than ashamed and outraged. It doesn’t have to be this way.

These students are sharp. They deserve the best education.  We have the resources to do it, we just have to demand what are OUR priorities.  I hope the vocal visibility of March 4 is only the beginning of sustained pressure.

Also Published on Socialist Worker and Oakland Local.

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