It is Thursday March 4th, "Day of Action to Defend Public Education" here in California and in states across the country. I'm making my way through the crowd of thousands in the massive square in front of City Hall in San Francisco.
I am looking for my wife and kids, assembled there with the teachers, parents and students of our school. I see them, standing in clusters, wearing their red "Save Our Schools" shirts. They're holding signs, chanting, laughing and smiling. My second-grade daughter is holding her teacher's hand. They're swaying to the music. I see my wife with our four-year old on her back. He's pumping his little fist up and down over his head. I slip into their midst and start high fiving and hugging people, proud to belong. (Check out photos of the event, snapped by Edutopia Senior Producer Grace Rubenstein, on our Flickr roll.)
Then it hits me, as I look around at the impressive turnout of teachers from our school, most clad in red tee shirts. Four out of ten of them may soon be laid off. It will be the younger ones, like the woman holding my daughter's hand, who shakes the hand of every one of her students every morning, whose energy and enthusiasm and connection with those kids makes the critical difference in their efforts to learn. She will likely receive her pink slip next week, along with as many as 35 percent of her colleagues at our school.
Now not all will actually be let go, some will be saved, but most won't. In our city the budget deficits are huge and all the special contingency and "rainy day" funds are used up. Our state government is financially underwater and so is our city, and both want to retreat from their former obligations to our schools. There are reasons, of course. Schools could be aided by a parcel tax if city voters pass such a measure; other city services have nowhere to turn.
Our governor -- you may have heard of him, good looking guy, speaks with an accent -- says he supports the teachers and the families and promises a constitutional amendment to guarantee that funding for higher education will never fall beneath funding for prisons, as it has today.
That's when you realize how far we have fallen. And how essential the Day of Action to Defend Public Education really is, and how important similar actions will be going forward. The crisis runs deep, the solutions will be long in coming, but it is essential to bring an end to the neglect and budget cuts that threaten to dismantle public education, fiscal plan by fiscal plan.
So there is modest good news. Yesterday voices were heard, legislators in states around the nation were put on notice: we teachers, parents and students will not rest until you embrace the alternatives, and pass the measures required, to stop this bleeding. Here, in California, the first step is new legislation to make it possible to raise taxes and pass local school parcel taxes with simple majorities rather than a two thirds vote. But with California's deeply partisan legislature, that's not as simple as it sounds. Which is why parents of all political stripes have got to come together and demand public education as a bipartisan issue.
Meanwhile, in our house, the red shirts will stay at the ready. Mom, representing our PTA, will do as she did yesterday, and take to the radio waves calling on other moms and dads to make their voices heard. Our fourth grader will polish up the speech that he gave in the school yard, on behalf of a buddy sick at home, who says he has "a dream that one day the schools or California will be judged not by the money it takes to run them but by the characteristics of their students and teachers." And, hopefully somehow, some way, my daughter will still have a teacher who will shake her hand every day and help her believe that there is nothing she can't learn, and few things she can't change, if she puts her mind to it.
That's going to keep this dad marching.
What's happening in your community?
-- David Markus, Editorial Director, Edutopia