Carlos Perez / The Collegian
SACRAMENTO — The weather was rainy and cloudy, but the message was loud and clear: Students want legislators to stop budget cuts against higher public education funding.
On Monday, thousands of California college students, faculty and staff marched to the state Capitol to demand that the legislature listen to the students and consider higher education a greater priority when finalizing the state’s budget.
Many students arrived by bus from all parts of California at the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento, where a pre-march rally began. Some wore T-shirts that bore their school name, others arrived with their faces painted and a few students were dressed in full costumes. Together, however, everybody exhibited the same message: Students want better state funding for their education.
“The march means everything to us,” California State University, Los Angeles student Quiana Zermeno said. “With all the cuts that are happening, [the lawmakers] are cutting our classes, professors and some of our most important educational programs.”
Currently, the proposed budget for the 2011 fiscal year will cut more than $1.4 billion to higher education — community colleges will see a $400 million cut, University of California and California State University schools will experience a proposed $500 million cut.
“I’m also an AB 540 student,” Zermeno said, “and paying tuition is already hard enough as it is. If [tuition rates] increase again, it will become nearly impossible for many of us to afford college or any type of higher education.”
Ironically enough, the downpour of effects that students will face due to cuts against education funding seemed to materialize as rain began to literally pour on students just as the march itself began. The weather didn’t stop the students, however, as they marched toward the capitol. Together, they chanted, “They say cut back, we say fight back!”
As the rain fell harder, the students chanted louder: “No cuts, no fees! Education must be free!”
If cuts continue against higher education funding, colleges could soon see a decrease in the amount of classes offered in California and an increase in students vying for a limited amount of seats.
“Students are our future,” Olgalilia Ramirez , California State Student Association director of government relations, said. “We cannot provide them with any less of an opportunity than they deserve.”
CSSA organized the march, along with the Student Senate for California Community Colleges in hopes to get the focus of lawmakers aimed toward the future of students.
“We want to help our students build the skills they need to blossom into the doctors, lawyers and lawmakers that they want to become,” Ramirez said. “It’s so hard to do this, however, when our budget continues to be flushed down the drain.”
As students arrived at the west steps of the Capitol, they listened as officials spoke and rallied for students against budget cuts. Among the officials present, California Faculty Association President Lillian Taiz addressed the crowd.
“We are not fighting for a change that will happen in five or 10 years — we’re fighting for a change that will happen now,” Taiz said. “Raise your voices and let these lawmakers hear the change you want.”
The crowd chanted: “Less fees, more degrees! Let us vote! Let us vote!”
Following the rally, some students entered the Capitol itself to perform a short sit-in while others attempted to talk with their specific legislators. Overall, attendees were left with mixed emotions of hope and doubt. Trisha Rodriguez, a Fresno City College student, said that she believes that the state legislature heard students but isn’t sure how they’re going to respond.
“I saw a few of [the legislators] peering out of windows from the Capitol, and I know they heard our voices loud and clear,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been saying it all morning and we’ll continue to let the legislature know that ‘higher education isn’t a cost to California — it’s an investment.’ ”