Bay Area Education Activists Rally To Prevent Cuts in Education Funding

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With the state struggling with a $22 billion budget deficit, education activists from Berkeley and around the Bay Area will hold a rally today in Sacramento calling on the legislature to refrain from making cuts to education.

The rally, which will be held outside the capitol in Sacramento, will include speeches by representatives from the Berkeley and Oakland school boards, parent and teacher groups, and students. Lobbyists will also meet privately with legislators to request a halt to potential cuts.

"The purpose of the rally is to discourage Davis from that path," said Berkeley Board of Education President Shirley Issel. "It is a matter of the greatest urgency to make sure the governor doesn't look toward education to make up his budget deficit."

The Berkeley Unified School District, which is already cutting $5.4 million from its budget for next year, could be forced to make deeper cuts if Gov. Gray Davis' revised budget, expected to be unveiled next Tuesday, includes a reduction in state education spending.

Davis has already proposed a $487 million cut to primary and secondary education for next year. And with the state deficit growing, activists said they believe the governor will cut education funding further in his May budget revision.

Issel said that while further cuts to school funding would be "unthinkable," she believes they are likely.

"Given how much of the budget is represented by education and given the degree of deficit and what (Davis) has said, it's a safe bet to assume education is one of the places he'll look," she said.

But Davis spokesperson Hilary McLean said the governor's budget will not further affect education spending.

"The governor is grappling with an unprecedented decline in revenue," McLean said. "Education will fare far and away better than other (state) programs."

Issel also said the amount of funding California spends on students is "inadequate," and an increase in per pupil spending is necessary to educate students properly.

Berkeley resident and rally coordinator Julie Chervin agreed, saying participants will also call for an effort to work toward a growth in per pupil spending from the current $6,100 to $12,000, a level "commensurate with the wealth of the state."

California is one of the wealthiest states in the nation but ranks 35th in education spending, Chervin said.

Assemblymember Dion Aroner, D-Berkeley, is expected to support rally organizers and will also push for reinstatement of the tax on the wealthiest 2 percent of Californians and the vehicle license fee to avoid cuts in education spending.

The license fee is expected to generate an extra $4 billion for the state, Chervin said.

But education cuts could still be made in lieu of raising taxes because tax hikes may hurt Davis' chances for re-election, said Aroner spokesperson Hans Hemann.

"There is some consideration to the political impact taxes would have," he said.

Aroner and lobby organizers will also oppose the possible suspension of Proposition 98, which requires 40 percent of state revenue to be spent on education. Rumors have circulated that Davis may propose the suspension to meet the deficit, Hemann said.

"We are hopeful (the rally) will have an impact," Chervin said. "I've heard it makes a difference when the legislators see people camping out right in their front yard."


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