In the dark hours of the night, 22 student-activists from California colleges drove in two vans to be in Sacramento this past Monday morning. At 9 a.m. on June 10th, without permission to be on the premises, they staged an Un-Silent protest from the sidewalk out front of the very hospitable state capitol. Signs in hand, mouths taped shut, they made their voices heard by challenging legislators to support the Governor Brown-supported Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).
Whereas the current system, rooted in age-old partisan bickering and mired in Proposition 13, has created an education system in which students are out to survive rather than thrive, the LCFF will "increase flexibility and accountability at the local level so those closest to the students can make the decisions, reduce state bureaucracy, and ensure that student needs drive the allocation of resources."
Let's start from the beginning.
I spoke with Ivette Alonso, a student who just finished her junior year at Whittier College, a small "liberal arts college that pushes students to question the world around them." Ivette found her place at Whittier College, and a place in a class with a mouthful of title: The Sociological and Anthropological Perspectives on Education. In that class, she began to question the world around her, specifically the history of educational inequity and the exclusion of marginal groups from higher education.
Source: All photos courtesy Students For Education Reform.
Working with collaborators and friends, Ivette helped to start a chapter of Students For Education Reform (SFER). SFER is a student-led movement to end educational injustice by empowering "students to take action stemming from their own experiences, acting with a relentless optimism for a better future." (SFER is also a partner of Fair Share 4 Kids: Find out more about them here. They're pretty awesome.) Ivette's own experience as an ESL (English as a Second Language) student, economic disparities in her neighborhood, and her passion propelled her forward. SFER-Whittier College was born.
According to SFER's press release, students from California State University - Dominguez Hills, Cerritos Community College, East Los Angeles Community College, Los Angeles City College, University of Southern California (USC), and Whittier College, in addition to four continuation high school students from John Muir Charter School in Long Beach, participated in the protest, a brilliant show of activism from a diverse group of dedicated youths.
The students had this to say:
[On Monday we met] with legislators to let them know that low-income students will not wait in silence. For far too long, our public education system has relied on an outdated, irrational and overly complex school finance system yielding unacceptable inequities and poor student outcomes.
We have experienced this inequity first-hand and have lost many of our friends in the educational system.
As college students from historically under-served neighborhoods, we support the Governor’s proposal because it concentrates the money to the highest poverty school districts, where the need is the highest. We stand here as some of the privileged few that got a chance at a college education and better standard of living. Only 1 in 10 students from low-income families goes on to graduate from a four year college, but we stand as the proud few who do not forget the 90% of our classmates who have silently disappeared from our schools.
We are here to break the silence and tell legislators that we want a needs-based funding system now.
Why, you ask, is this something you should pay attention to?
Well, firstly, California Governor Jerry Brown says it's good for students:
But you don't have to take Gov. Brown at his word. Fair Share 4 Kids has a video program on their main page that you can use to tailor a video to your local district. (I did Davis Joint Unified, because I live there.) Information on the current bill, reasons for it, and then a special "Your local district" section with statistics. Feel free to push pause to read them all.
These young folks, bolstered with knowledge of inequity and experiences of marginalization, emboldened with the support of SFER and Fair Share 4 Kids, and impassioned with hope for bright futures, did indeed storm the capitol. They came after a mere weeks of planning, and they handled their business. After staging their protest, they were able to meet with legislators, including Senator Lara.
Mynor Godoy, the CA State Program Director of SFER, told me in an email, "20 of the 22 students that were protesting were from Sen. Lara's district, and they confronted him in the hallway as he tried to leave through the back door of his office. He said he supported anything that would be in the best interest of his community."
Next on the agenda for Ivette and her fellow activists?
Following the debate, following up with legislators, getting letters to legislators filled out, working on a trailer bill to ensure accountability measures are adequately in place to safeguard student funding, and continuing to be actively and politically engaged community members by attending school board meetings to make sure the future is safe for all kids — regardless of race, class, or gender.
Things are moving quickly in the capitol. Students who have been forced to watch 9 out of 10 of their classmates disappear as few make it through higher education want the Local Control Funding Formula in place. Be involved, get involved, stay involved. California's students and California's future demand it.
And if these brave activists are any example, I think our students deserve it.
Wanna talk classroom disparities? Add me on Twitter: @JohnathenDD