Many schools are starting this week. Children, college students, teachers and workers are returning to their schools and what will they find when they return? It is a system in crisis. From kindergarten to graduate school our public educational system has been cut to the bone. California now ranks 50th of the fifty states in terms of the amount of money spent on each student. Schools have been closed, programs have been eliminated, teachers and staff have been laid off and classes are being cancelled, Students are faced with reduced library hours, less counseling and tutoring services.
More students are being crowded into fewer classrooms. For example, at San Francisco State University, part of the 23-campus CSU system, the same number of students are now being taught by 16 percent fewer instructors, in fewer classrooms than five years ago. At the same time, many students are no longer able to go to school at all. It is estimated that 670,000 students will be turned away this year from the 110 state community colleges. This means that laid off workers can not get into training programs and many high school graduates cannot get into college.
And who can afford the skyrocketing costs? Fees at the community colleges have gone from $26 a unit last year to $36 this fall and will go to at least $46 next spring. At the CSUs students now pay $6422 a year in tuition, 19 per cent more than last year. At the UCs tuition has been raised 32 percent in the last two years to $12,834. With state revenues down, because of less money coming in as property and income taxes, even more drastic cuts and/or fee hikes are being threatened for the K-12 system, the community colleges, CSUs and UCs this spring.
But even while classes are cut and fees raised, and while the UC system is threatening to cut the wages of its lowest paid workers to below $13.75 an hour – money has been found for those who already have plenty of money. In 2009, the number of UC employees making over $218,000 a year increased by 12 percent. The UC Chancellor earns over half a million a year. The CSU San Diego trustees raised the salary of their new president by $100,000 a year more than the last president.
Those imposing these cuts claim the state is broke. If we look at the taxes collected, this is true. But, the money is there. California is the eighth largest economy in the world! It is home to 57 of the country’s major corporations, and to 84 billionaires with a reported wealth of $250 billion. There is plenty of money in the hands of those in Washington DC as well. In 2008, the federal government came up with over $16 trillion in loans and handouts to bail out the big corporations and banks. It has spent over one trillion dollars on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Could it be any clearer what the values of this society are? The wealthiest few, who are served by this system, are guaranteed their positions of wealth and privilege. Meanwhile the majority, those who actually do the work of this society, are facing a lack of jobs, education, opportunities and hope for our future. That is this system and that is how it works.
But it doesn’t have to remain this way. There are a lot more of us then there are of them. Our lives and the future of our children are at stake. Isn’t it time we refused to let them treat us this way? Isn’t it time to demand and fight to make education a right not a privilege?