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State of Emergency

May 12, 2011
CA State Capitol

California State Capitol; photo: David B. Cohen

Here in California, teachers are engaged in a week-long series of actions to call attention to the state of emergency in our public schools.  The looming budget cuts pose a serious threat to our ability to provide even a basic education to most of our children.  On Monday, teachers from around the state, including a few members of Accomplished California Teachers, converged on Sacramento to take up our cause in the Capitol.  Newspaper coverage in the San Francisco Chronicle downplayed the crisis that necessitated the protests; instead, the article takes an issue that warranted only a passing mention and made it into a distraction from the real issues.  Here is the response I composed in a letter to the editor:

Today’s article about teachers going to Sacramento to protest the budget cuts almost completely missed the point, and included quotes suggesting many of our citizens still need to wake up.

Somehow, the thrust of the article seemed to be about teachers missing classroom time, substitute pay and lesson plans.  Members of the public question teachers for taking this action.

Meanwhile, last week, a local superintendent at a special Senate Budget Committee hearing in Mountain View talked about ending school in April under the “all-cuts” budget.  He said that any deeper program cuts would leave them questioning whether or not they could still claim to be running “schools.”

Classrooms cannot be any more crowded.  Libraries cannot be more closed.  Nurses, counselors, and support staff are disappearing fast.  California high schools already have the lowest staffing ratios in the nation – by far.

The question is not what it costs for teachers to leave their classrooms in the care of substitutes for a few days.  What about the costs to families and to worker productivity when schools are closed an extra six weeks next year?  What about the long-term cultural and economic costs of an undereducated generation?  We are in a state of emergency.  That’s why dedicated teachers cannot simply stay in the classroom and out of the political fray at this time.

EDIT/ADDITION:  ACT member Alice Mercer, a teacher in Sacramento, has been on the scene quite a bit and has been posting much more about the teahcers’ activities and the legislative action as well.  Please check out her blog, Reflections on Teaching.

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