Students, teachers and staff of schools throughout Southern California were joined by enthusiastic supporters Friday afternoon at a rally in downtown San Diego meant to send a message to Sacramento politicians to stop cutting the budget for education.
The crowd of several thousand came from San Diego, Imperial, Orange and Riverside counties for the “State of Emergency” rally organized by the California Teachers Association. They waved signs and chanted as speakers warned of the consequences of further cuts to education funding. Speakers included administrators, teachers, students, staff, parents and labor leaders.
Darin Curtis, a physical education teacher at Tierra del Sol Middle School in Lakeside and the current California Teacher of the Year, recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., where he met with President Obama in the Oval Office and other federal education officials.
“I confronted the important educational leaders in our nation’s capital, and believe me, my fire is lit,” Curtis told the crowd, drawing loud cheers.
He described meeting with Obama and showing him a picture of the president a second-grader keeps in her desk. Obama signed the picture and learned the story of the student’s teacher and her hard work that goes beyond the school day.
“She comes to the school early. She stays until dark and comes back on the weekends to develop lessons that inspire the dreams of her students,” Curtis said. “It’s not a six-hour job. Are you kidding me?”
One of the best-received speeches was one delivered by Natalie Mason and Kalvin Payne, students at San Diego High School of International Studies. They stood together at the podium and spoke with passion and humor about their teachers.
“We understand that money doesn’t grow on trees. We’re employed ourselves,” they said, drawing laughs. “But every time a teacher loses a job, a student loses a person they can count on.”
Carol Lamb, a bus driver in the Vista Unified School District, represented the Classified School Employees Association. She said budget cuts a few years ago resulted in bus service being cut for middle school students. A seventh-grader that had to walk three miles to school along busy streets was hit by a car and killed, she said. Bus service was restored after the accident.
“Because of the ongoing budget cuts, our children’s safety is constantly put at risk,” she said.
Gregg Robinson of the California Federation of Teachers gave a fiery speech that blasted politicians for cutting education funding while undertaxing billionaires. He said he fears that more budget cuts will result in students with no math skills whatsoever, “like a lot of those legislators up in Sacramento.”
“Because they’re telling us in Sacramento there’s no money for education. They tell us they can cut taxes on the wealthy but they can’t fund education,” Robinson said. “That’s bad math.”