By Sheri Williams
More than a thousand teachers and their supporters marched at the Capitol in late May to fight for fair funding for California schools, and to stop charter schools from siphoning money from the public system.
“We have unions united, we have school districts united, we have this state united to fight for funding in education,” said newly-elected California Federation of Teachers president Jeff Freitas, speaking on the Capitol steps. “This is a movement. You are the movement. … It’s the members, it’s the people in the classroom, it’s the teachers, it’s the classified, it’s the nurses. We need to be providing the education that our students deserve in this state, and we need the funding to do that.”
Later, marchers took over the second floor above the Capitol rotunda, chanting “Tell us what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.” Their voices echoed off the walls and shut down business in the building.
By the end of the day, the legislation they came to advocate for had advanced, including Assembly Bill 1505, a measure that will curb the devastating growth of charter schools in the state.
“For too long, corporate charter schools and billionaires who look at students with dollar signs in their eyes have drained resources from our neighborhood public schools,” said Freitas.
Freitas also talked about voter measures in the upcoming election, including a statewide ballot measure that would provide money for schools. He pointed out that California remains the 41st overall in funding for education despite being one of the world’s strongest economies.
“We are fighting for the future of our children, and we are fighting for the future,” said Freitas. “We are one step closer to restoring control back to local communities to decide whether charter schools are the right fit for their students!”
Freitas, who is a former math teacher and local union leader from the Carpinteria Association of United School Employees, Local 2216, has been a member of the CFT family for 25 years, according to CFT. Elected to his post in recent months, he is the organization’s first openly LGBTQ leader, and a fierce fighter for equal rights.
“Our top priority must be investing in California’s public education — drawing on the strength of our world-class economy to rescue our state from its current embarrassing place among the lowest in per-pupil spending in all of the United States,” said Freitas in a CFT statement. “We will continue to fight boldly for increased education funding — not only because California should lead the nation in per-pupil funding, but because it is the right thing to do for the children of this state and the society they will shape.”
His sentiments were echoed by California Teachers Association President Eric Heins.
“For too long, we have been on a starvation diet for our schools,” said Heins at the rally.
As part of the Red for Ed day, CFT and SCLC leader Dean Murakami spoke at a separate event, delivering a vote of no confidence in California Community Colleges Chancellor Oakley. Murakami spoke about the flawed budget formula for community colleges that has left them unable to plan for coming years because they don’t know how much money they will receive, he said.
“That is irresponsible, that is insane,” said Murakami. “We should not declare winners and losers among our students, because all of our students are winners.”