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Students Rally for Their (and California’s) Future

New America Media//YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia, News Report Video, Inga Buchbinder//Video: Mike Siv with Aaron Glantz; Eming Piansay and Donny Lumpkins Posted: Mar 05, 2010

Mike Siv and Aaron Glantz report from San Francisco State University

Eming Piansay and Donny Lumpkins report from 24th Street and Mission in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO -- “The fight against budget cuts in California is about a lot more than saving education,” Alex Schmaus said. “It’s about fighting for a reset of priorities in our country.”

Schmaus was one in a sea of students, faculty and staff who rallied against the education budget cuts at San Francisco State University (SFSU) on Thursday. They were part of a statewide day of protests to save public education. Schmaus is a student representative for Students Faculty Staff United, a coalition at SFSU that organizes against the budget cuts happening throughout California.

“People might think that it’s fun to have a day off,” said Bell Tuntisukharom, a nursing major. He has experienced six furlough days already because of the school’s need to cut back on expenses. “But it’s bad for us in the long run because we are just going to have to keep on coming back [to school] and paying tuition,” said Tuntisukharom.

However the students’ problems extend well beyond the furloughs. Many have trouble getting the classes they need to complete their degrees. Freshman Tim Nguyen intends to pursue a degree in nursing, but he is having difficulties getting into the basic courses he needs, such as general human biology and microbiology.

“I’m going to have to try somewhere else,” Nguyen said. “Go to a different school or crash classes.” Some have already tried that. “I got kicked out of a few classes because I was trying to crash them,” said Tuntisukharom.

Some teachers will accept as many students as they can into their already full classes, Nguyen says. It means students are sitting on the floor, in the aisles or standing in the back.

“I’ve definitely had several classes where I’ve sat on the floor,” Kasha Perez, a political science major, said. “We’re paying almost $5,000 a year to attend this university. I would hope that we would be able to afford a chair.”

With the consistent fee hikes, Perez has had to take on two jobs, totaling a 40-hour workweek on top of her full course load at SFSU. “[The cuts are] hitting across the board,” Perez said. “Not just CSU, [but also] community colleges, adult education centers and the UCs.”

Educators are not only grappling with furloughs and overcrowded classrooms, but also pay cuts and lay-offs. “It’s time to pay attention to public education,” Ramon Castellblach, chair of the California Faculty Association at SFSU said. “They’ve been starving the systems for too long [and] it’s killing opportunities for Californians.”

Instead of fighting the cuts, many educators have chosen to move on, Castellblach says, in order to continue to provide for their families. “It’s going to mean a loss of a lot of talent,” which will undermine the quality of education in California in the future.

“This is a social justice issue,” Perez said. “We need to fund [education]. It’s our future.”

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