Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Schwarzenegger gets an F in Education

Schwarzenegger was the commencement speaker June 14, 2005, at Santa Monica College, which he once attended in the early 1970s. Before he spoke, a overflow crowd of faculty, students, and community people went to the Board of Trustees asking the invitation be withdrawn, but the Board of Trustees refused. Then while he spoke about 300 people had a peaceful picket outside including four former mayors of Santa Monica-- Paul Rosenstein, James Conn, Judy Abdo and Michael Feinstein--while many inside the stadium frequently and loudly booed Schwarzenegger.

Since he’s been governor, Schwarzenegger has raised fees on college students, restricted access to public higher education, and cut the education budget drastically. Many Santa Monica College students want to transfer to UC, but Schwarzenegger raised fees 14% at UC (within the last three years fees have already rise from $14 to $21 for the community colleges). This fee raise at UC made it impossible for some students to attend. Keith Mason, a teacher at Santa Monica College and one of the rally’s organizers said, Schwarzenegger’s polices were like a Robin Hood horror film " where the governor 'steals from the poor and gives to the rich.'"

The day before the commencement, Schwarzeneggar unveiled his plan to call for a November special election costing the state over $60 million with plans to reduce the power of that legislature and states’ employees unions. He has specially targeted such “special interests” as nurses whose butts he wanted to kick as well as firefighters, teachers, and policemen. All the while he raises over $50 millions from huge corporations who get tax breaks in California.

Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, said the state uses “students as cash-cows when finances go bad." Instead of raising taxes, Schwarzenegger raises student fees for higher education. At UC since 2002 fees have gone up 60% for undergraduates (up 14% in fall 2004 for in-state undergraduates). He taxes students, not the rich!

To make matters worse, Schwarzenegger wanted in 2004 to cut UC’s budget 7 percent. Schwarzennegger's cut in UC's budget forced an end to the 40-year historic promise in California that any student who does the work gets into higher education in this state. In the spring of 2004 over 7,000 in-state students eligible for UC were told they couldn’t go. Only by late July when the Democrats forced Schwarzenegger to restore UC’s funding were 7,000 students given places but it was too late for most of them. Those 7,000 students also had their lives disrupted by Schwareneggar’s budget cuts. When community college fees were raised from $14 to $21, over 125,000 students had been already driven out of college even before Schwarzenegger took office. Schwarzenegger continues to disrupt thousands of young people's lives by making even public higher education too expensive for them to attend.

Schwarzenegger also made a deal with the California Teacher’s Association in 2004 to cut the state’s education budget $2 billion, suspending the state's constitution to do so. What impact has the $2 billion cut in education had? Delaine Eastin, former State Superintendant of Schools said, “If you adjust for the cost of living, you can make the case that we are close to last in per-pupil spending in this country.” For example, California’s per pupil spending is around $6500, while New York spends nearly $11,000 per student. Schwarzenegger has the accomplishment of reducing the state's education budget to an ever lower level.

Schwarzenegger’s cuts will harm poor children the most. West Contra Costa Unified School District, an urban area encompassing some of the poorest parts of the San Francisco Bay area, was forced to cut its budget by $28 million over the last three years, eliminating all school sports programs, closing all its libraries and pink-slipping more than 200 employees in March, 2004. According to Shane Goldmacher in the August, 19, 2004, online Nation the cuts amount to nearly $1,000 per student over three years. Taking away students’ libraries is disrupting their lives to an incredible degree!

While rich schools will have parents raising money to make up some of the deficits, poor schools like West Contrast Cost Unified School District lack this parents’ base, so poor children will suffer the most. In other words, rather than raise taxes on the wealthiest (and there’s huge wealth in California), Schwarzenegger makes poor children suffer ever-worsening education. Schwarzenegger picks on poor children to carry the budget on their backs.

Goldmacher reported that "in May 2004, Field Poll, 62 percent of Californians (and a plurality of Republicans) said that taxes will have to be raised to resolve the state's budget deficit, but Schwarzenegger will have none of that." I have students in community colleges who weekly work 30-40 hours and then go to college. For thousands of self-supporting students, UC is now out of their reach. Schwarzenegger's policies make students subsidize the ultra rich in California. He seems to be motivated by shortsighted greed: at all costs never never raise taxes on those who drive $80,000 hummers, send their children to private schools, have 2 or 3 homes.

We should think about tens of thousands of students’ lives in California Schwarzenegger has already disrupted.Schwarzenegger's main accomplisment regarding education in California is to make a bad situation much, much worse. Yes, indeed, Governor Schwarzenegger has flunked education.

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