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Oakland Unified School District holds rally to support public education

on March 3, 2011

With some passing drivers honking to express support, dozens of teachers and students rallied in front of Oakland’s Elihu M. Harris State Building on Wednesday afternoon to protest the severe budget cuts awaiting school districts if Governor Jerry Brown’s tax extension proposal fails.

The protesters held up banners in English, Spanish and Chinese; many of those held by children were colorful drawings showing crying faces.

The rally, organized by the Oakland Unified School District, was part of a series of events called the “Day of Action in Defense of Public Education” in which parents, students and teachers protested throughout the state. In Oakland, all OUSD schools also carried out a “disaster drill” earlier in the day during which students and teachers were evacuated from their schools in response to fire alarms. The drill was meant to “symbolize the ‘state of emergency’ afflicting public education,” according to an OUSD statement.

“The message was loud and clear, people are tired of the budget cuts,” said Betty Olsen-Jones, president of the Oakland Education Association, a co-sponsor of Wednesday’s events, during a brief press conference following the downtown protest. “We can’t keep cutting off one arm, one leg, one portion time after time.”

Governor Brown, whose budget proposal already contains cuts to education, wants to put a five-year extension of higher tax rates on the ballot this June to help fix the state’s $26 billion deficit.  If passed, the extension, which is now opposed by Republican lawmakers, would generate $11 billion through June 2012 and up to $11 billion annually in subsequent years. However, if rejected by the voters, or if it fails to make it to a special election this summer, deeper cuts to K-12 education—where over 40 percent of the state’s general fund goes—are believed to be inevitable.

According to a poll released in January by the Public Policy Institute of California, a nonpartisan think tank, 67 percent of interviewees said that it is a good idea to let voters decide whether to extend the tax increases.

Although California Watch, an investigative journalism initiative, reported that over 150 school districts have passed resolutions to back the ballot measure, many at yesterday’s conference said that a tax extension would be no more than a temporary solution.

“Many of us in the OEA will reluctantly support extending current regressive taxes,” said Olson-Jones. “But we know that in the long run, the only solution is for there to be progressive taxation that takes the corporations and the banks and makes them pay their fair share.”

Lewis Cohen, the education policy analyst for Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, believes that business leaders should take more responsibility to combat the state’s current budget crisis. “Last year was the second-best year for corporate profits ever recorded in U.S. history,” he said. “At the same time when the state was supposedly closing its budget gap, they gave billions of new corporate tax breaks.”

While the spending on K-12 education has been taking up the biggest portion of the state’s budget in recent years, California schools are still among the most under-funded in the country. “We educate one in eight public school students in the state of California, and yet we fund at the 47th [level] of all states in the U.S.,” said OUSD Superintendent Tony Smith, who moderated the press conference after yesterday’s protest.

In a study done by The California Budget Project, an independent research organization based in Sacramento, California spends roughly $9,000 on each K-12 pupil while the average amount throughout the country is about $11,400.

The figures also suggest that the number of K-12 students per teacher in California—about 20—is the largest in the entire country. In addition, California’s high school graduation rate— roughly 62 percent—ranks 42nd in the U.S.

“Many people may believe that the debate in Sacramento is over a $26 billion budget deficit,” said Assemblymember Sandré Swanson at the press conference. Swanson represents the state’s16th District, which includes Oakland. “But it really is, and should be, a debate over California values. The children should win in that debate,” he said.

Image: Oakland Education Association president Betty Olson-Jones asked teachers and students to make their voices heard in Sacramento.


  1. Brian on March 7, 2011 at 12:57 am

    I’m going to demand a correction to the 10th paragraph of this article.

    OUSD Superintendent Tony Smith incorrectly asserted that “and yet we fund at the 47th [level] of all states in the U.S.”

    That is, of course, incorrect. California ranks 21st in the nation in per-pupil spending on public education, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Census department.

    (see table 11, line 21 of the report)

    Moreover, the OUSD’s spending per pupil is much higher than the state average.

    As a journalist, it is a job to check the facts, not just act as a stenographer for public officials.

    Moreover, you failed — once again — to reach out to the other side of a debate on a contentious and important public issue.

    This is not just lazy journalism, it’s little more than propaganda for government officials.

    That is, of course, totally unacceptable.

    I demand, for starters:

    *A correction or explanation of the discrepancies between the U.S. government’s data and what the OUSD superintendent asserted

    *That you include comments and perspectives from those opposed to new taxes, or someone advocating charter schools, or someone advocating school vouchers… in short, anyone who does not parrot the line you’re being fed by OUSD bureaucrats.

    *Lastly, I demand that you do a bit of homework to redeem yourself. Divide the total OUSD budget by the number of pupils it educates. Tell me what you get. Is that higher, or lower than the state average? The national average? Post the figure here to prove that you can do that basic research, a and that you have the integrity to publish it.

    Sorry to be so harsh, but journalism that merely parrots powerful local public officials is neither journalism, nor a public service.

  2. Brian on March 7, 2011 at 1:01 am

    Just to make the data as accessible as possible, here is a link to the relevant spreadsheet…

  3. Brian on March 7, 2011 at 1:08 am

    More questions: why do the California Budget Projects figures differ so wildly from the ones presented by the U.S. Census bureau? Do they have an agenda? Why do most mainstream media outlets describe the California Budget Project as “left leaning.” Why would anyone rely on a think tank for figures rather than the Census bureau? Might the person who put those numbers in front of you have an agenda? If so, that’s fine, but why didn’t you call someone with an opposing view? Do you find their views somehow unacceptable?

    Also, you don’t find the idea of government workers demonstrating for more resources a little, um, self-interested?

    Come on. If you’re afraid to question what the OUSD tells you how are you going to cover anything bigger?

    Again, sorry to be harsh, but show me something here. Ping someone with an opposing viewpoint, at least. There’s a raging debate here, and you’re missing it.

  4. Ye Tian on March 7, 2011 at 1:30 am

    Hi Brian, thanks for your advice again. The statistics you suggested is 2007-08, while the number from California Budget Projects is 2010-11.

    It’ll be very helpful if you can direct me to a story that you think is well-reported on the issue. I appreciate your being harsh and I’m looking forward to seeing the examples that you’d suggest me to learn from.

  5. Brian on March 7, 2011 at 1:34 am

    Here’s more research for you from the state itself…

    “In 2007-08, California’s per-pupil spending—without regional cost-of-labor adjustments—ranked 28th.”

    Now has that changed since then? Sure, maybe. Can you rely on a partisan group like the CPB for figures? Yes, you can cite them, but you need to call a right-leaning group to get a little balance if you do…

    Education is an interesting story in California… maybe more interesting than the OUSD will let you…

    • Ye Tian on March 7, 2011 at 1:54 am

      Yes, I think the numbers may have changed after the recession. I can’t say that CBP is left-leaning just based on what you said, and I can’t call another group right-leaning if they had a different number. Again, I’ll appreciate some examples on this issue that you think are not lazy journalism.Thank you.

  6. Brian on March 7, 2011 at 1:47 am

    This story talks to two sides of a contentious education issue…

    That’s journalism 101, getting multiple sides to a story to get to the center of the story which is always conflict.

    After all, if there were no conflict, would those teachers be fired up enough to hit the streets? I think not.

    What does the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association think of the numbers the CPB is citing? Do they agree? Are they skeptical? Do they have their own estimate?

    Why is the OUSD putting the CPB’s estimate in front of you, rather than official figures from the state or federal government?

    • Ye Tian on March 7, 2011 at 2:06 am

      Sorry Brian. I meant articles on this particular issue in California. Since you’ve been spending so much time finding the figures, can you help me with the latest figures from the state or federal government? I’m still learning journalism 101 here so it’ll be great if you can teach me how to get that number. With the number you provide, I’ll do the math and publish the figure you request below. Thanks!

      • Brian on March 7, 2011 at 2:12 am

        The state and federal figures lag the estimates published by partisan groups like the CPB, always have, always will (while you might not be comfortable calling them left-leaning, your colleagues in the media call them that routinely, Google it).

        And I’ll admit, the homework I assigned you isn’t fair, the OUSD doesn’t seem to break out K-12 spending separately in the documents I have access to, so making an apples to apples comparison with the national average spending per student isn’t quite the cakewalk I’d originally thought. Apologies.

        Still, I really do think this is relevant: how does the OUSD’s k-12 per pupil spending compare to the national average?

      • Brian on March 7, 2011 at 2:13 am

        So I’m really going to urge you to talk to the California Taxpayers Association or the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer’s Association. Do they agree with the CPB’s estimates? Do they think raising taxes is the solution?

        Now, they’ll be no more fair than the CPB or the OUSD, but at least you’ll be getting both sides here.

  7. Brian on March 7, 2011 at 1:51 am

    Again, you’re online.

    Tell me what does the OUSD spend per student? How does that compare to the national average?

    Are you willing to post that figure?

    After all, isn’t it relevant?

  8. Brian on March 7, 2011 at 2:06 am

    “Many of us in the OEA will reluctantly support extending current regressive taxes,” said Olson-Jones. “But we know that in the long run, the only solution is for there to be progressive taxation that takes the corporations and the banks and makes them pay their fair share.”

    Okay, great. What does the California Taxpayers Association have to say?

    “Corporations looking to relocate, or even establish, a business in the West may shy away from California, as the state’s 8.84 percent flat rate is the highest corporate tax rate in the West. Nationally, only 7 states have a higher top corporate tax rate than California. In 2008, state-level corporate tax collections (excluding local taxes) in California were $325 per capita, which ranked 6th highest nationally.”

    • Ye Tian on March 7, 2011 at 2:15 am

      Thanks Brian. If you can email me your email, I’ll definitely ask for advice the next time I have a similar assignment. Apparently you’re better at reaching different sides. Good night!

  9. Brian on March 7, 2011 at 2:22 am

    Anyhow apologies for my harshness.

    I’m just a longtime Bay Area resident and the OUSD is an emotional issue for me, part of that’s history, I know, the district collapsed and was taken over by the state for spell and has probably improved since then.

    That said, I don’t trust the OUSD or the OEA at all. Neither do many parents, families in Oakland are fleeing for private schools (if they can afford them) and charter schools (if they can’t).

    The charter school trend is one of the causes of the OUSD’s budget woes…


    …because parents are basically rebelling against the OUSD and setting up schools of their own to get away from the OUSD/OEA.

    In retrospect I may have been way to harsh (on you, not on the OUSD), but I really tire of government employees saying more taxes are always the answer, when the conflict of interest in that request just begs for a reality check from the other side of the issue.

    A quick call to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association or the California Taxpayers Association will give you that — and elicit an interesting reaction from your original sources when you ask them to react to those comments…

  10. […] Oakland Unified School District holds rally to support public … Mar 3, 2011 … With some passing drivers honking to express support, dozens of teachers and students rallied in … […]

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