May 6, 2012

By Liz Guillen

Every year since 2003, members of the Campaign for Quality Education (CQE), including Public Advocates, have rallied in Sacramento for our Education “Day of Action.” Our goal? Show legislators that all students need and deserve access to a high-quality education that prepares them for college and careers, regardless of their families’ income, ethnicity, nationality or language.

For this year’s event on May 10, the stakes were as high as they’ve ever been. Gov. Jerry Brown’s bold new education funding proposal to use a weighted student formula, which would allocate more money to districts with a larger percentage of low-income students and English learners, was front-and-center in the Capitol, giving students a concrete solution to rally behind rather than just the hope of one (for more details, see our talking points). The “May Revise” to that budget was just around the corner. And in addition to student advocates from Californians for Justice, Bay Area Parent Leadership Action Network (PLAN), Pacific Islander Youth Promoting Advocacy (AYPAL), Inner City Struggle and Youth Together, four prominent education equity partners were at the CQE’s side at a morning press conference: EdVoiceEdTrust West, Children Now and PICO California.

Students ‘Dying’ for Change

More than 200 students, parents and community organizers marched through the Capitol grounds under the CQE banner, chanting for change (see photo courtesy of Californians for Justice). They also staged a “die-in,” falling to the ground to dramatize the depth of their need for adequate supplies, classes and other educational necessities. In the afternoon, they met with legislative staffers to advocate for Gov. Brown’s weighted student formula, politely yet persistently asking that legislators increase support for an idea that is long overdue — and that, sadly, doesn’t seem to be gaining the momentum it deserves.

Their impassioned pleas for a fair funding system didn’t disappoint. From Citlali Hernandez’s poignant op ed (which appeared the day before in John Fensterwald’s popular “Thoughts on Public Education” blog), to EdVoice President and CEO Bill Lucia’s vehement reminder that “children do not have a shelf life,” CQE’s message came through loud and clear: the status quo is not acceptable.

As Jody Diala, an Oakland high school senior and member of AYPAL, said, “I am personally tired of being terrified and feeling unprepared to pursue higher education because we don’t have steady counselors, enough school supplies and AP courses.”

The Students Have Spoken, but Will Lawmakers Listen?

The day’s effort was a real push for legislators to look seriously at Governor Brown’s funding proposal — and look now, not when the fiscal crisis is over and the will to change the status quo weakens.

It was also inspiring to see such a tremendous turnout from students, parents and equity organizations alike. One group of students in CFJ, for example, left Long Beach at 10:00 p.m. on May 9, stayed up all night preparing speeches and comments, and was at the Capitol by 5:00 a.m. on the day of the event. Other youth and parent leaders traveled to Sacramento representing Inner City Struggle, Men Making A Change (LA, Long Beach), Coleman Advocates (San Francisco), Fathers and Families of San Joaquin (Stockton), Fresno Center for New Americans, Reading & Beyond, CFJ (Fresno), PLAN, CFJ, Youth Together (Oakland), CFJ (San Jose), and RYSE (Richmond).

That kind of dedication and desire for meaningful change epitomizes the CQE.

We’re hoping our Day of Action spurs lawmakers to take action, too. With the release on May 14 of Governor Brown’s May revision to his budget proposal, it is clear that his advisors have heard many of the CQE’s concerns, but there’s still more to work out. Why should school districts have 100-percent flexibility when only 5 percent of the weighted student formula proposal will be implemented? And how, besides test scores, can the public be assured the additional “weighted” funds will be spent on the children who generated the funds in the first place?

With the CQE and our education equity advocates in Sacramento, we will keep pushing for a new funding system that truly benefits the students with the greatest needs, because our children’s future can’t be put on hold.

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