Occupying the Capitol - Page 2

Amid education cuts and tuition hikes, students increase pressure in Sacramento

Thousands of students gathered at the Capitol to demand more state support for education.

Around 12:30 p.m., the permitted rally ended and thousands dispersed. About 400 stayed to "Occupy the Capitol." The group streamed into the building and into the rotunda. California Highway Patrol officers, responsible for policing the Capitol, blocked more than 150 from entering the central area. So, communicating via the Peoples Mic with several rounds of crowd repetition for every sentence spoken, the group participated in a statewide general assembly.

Some building employees showed support, but the only politician to sit down with the protesters was Newsom, who sits on the UC Board of Regents and CSU Board of Trustees. He chatted with students, some of whom requested that he ask police to stop blocking students from meeting in the same area; he didn't do so, but was able to convince them to give protesters in the rotunda access to bathrooms.

The group managed to collectively decide on demands of the state: support the Millionaire's Tax ballot initiative, repeal Prop. 13, cancel all student debt, fund all education through college, and democratize the Board of Regents. When building closed at 6 p.m., officers declared the assembly unlawful and arrested 70 who refused to disperse.

Meanwhile, another 400 or so attended a permitted rally on the Capitol lawn called by several Sacramento labor unions to support Occupy the Capitol.

Over the past five years, education funding in California has been cut drastically. Spending per K-12 student per year has gone down by almost $2,000 and higher education has seen program cuts and tuition hikes. Gov. Jerry Brown's latest budget proposal includes still more cuts to California colleges and universities.

Several proposed ballot initiatives are designed to address this. An initiative sponsored by Brown would bring spending per student per year up by $1,000, stabilizing at $7,658 (it was $7,096 in 2011-12) and reversing a five-year slide. But it would still be less than 2007-08, according to a report from the California Budget Project (CBP).

That report shows K-12 education spending is the biggest piece of the state budget, although California ranks dismally low compared to other states for spending on K-12 education: 47th in the country.

The governor's proposal would raise funds with a combination of a tax increase for those earning $250,000 and over per year and a sales tax increase. But critics say the increase in the sales tax, which is notoriously regressive, would hurt lower and middle income families.

The measure is up against other potential ballot initiatives that would raise revenue strictly from the wealthiest Californians. The so-called Millionaire's Tax, for example, would raise funds for education by increasing taxes on those making $1 million or more per year. The Millionaire's Tax also has the advantage of resulting in a permanent change in the law, while Brown's measure would apply only for the next five years.

"California's problems have also been exacerbated by tax cuts, one-time 'solutions,' overly optimistic assumptions, and the fact that the two-thirds vote requirement for the legislature to approve any tax measure has blocked adoption of a balanced approach towards bridging the budget gap," according to the CBP report.

Teachers' unions are divided over the best ballot measure. The California Teachers' Association has endorsed Brown's measure, emphasizing that it includes a plan to close the budget deficit.

"The governor's initiative is the only initiative that provides additional revenues for our classrooms and closes the state budget deficit, and guarantees local communities will receive funds to pay for the realignment of local health and public safety services that the Legislature approved last year," said Dean Vogel, CTA president, in a press release.

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