Nearly 5,000 college students from around California descended on the state Capitol building in Sacramento this past Monday to demand educational reform from state legislators.
The annual event, called the “March in March,” attracted student delegations from University of California campuses, California State Universities and California community colleges. Fifty students from UCSB attended the protest and held meetings with various members of the State Assembly and Senate to discuss impending legislation concerning higher education.
One of the most controversial pieces of pending legislation, Senate Bill 241, proposes an oil severance tax of 9.9 percent on oil producers in California with 93 percent of the proceeds — an estimated $2 billion a year — to be used to fund higher education and the remaining 7 percent allocated to the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
Second District State Senator Noreen Evans, who introduced the bill, spoke to those present at the event about the state’s need to identify additional tax revenue in light of the doubling costs of higher education. Evans said SB 241’s state approval is necessary because it will complement November’s voter-approved Proposition 30, which promised tax increases in order to fund public education.
“We have a problem in California when our colleges and universities receive 13 percent less in state funding than they did in 1980,” Evans said. “This is a bill that will, for the first time, tax oil companies in the state of California, companies who year after year have record profits and take the oil from our soil in the state. This will finally tax them for doing that. We are the only oil-producing state in the United States that does not tax oil severance.”
UC Student Association President Raquel Morales, a fourth-year International Studies and Latin American Studies major at UC San Diego, said the students mobilized in order to ensure that funds raised by Proposition 30 reach public universities by urging state legislators to pass bills in support of higher education.
“We are here to remind [legislators] that if they do not do the right thing, we are going to be back here at the Capitol and in their districts — all over the state and not just [in] March, but every week if we have to,” Morales said. “This is our state and the Capitol is our house. UC, CSU and community college students continue to be united in this struggle.”
After the rally outside the Capitol building concluded, the majority of students headed inside to call on assembly members and state senators from their respective districts. With a number of proposed educational bills currently working their way through the legislature, most student groups used these visits as opportunities to advocate various bills to their legislators.
Assemblyman Das Williams, who represents the 37th District encompassing Santa Barbara County, recently introduced AB 955, a bill that aims to amend policy regarding types of classes available within California community colleges. If passed, AB 955 will allow colleges to implement extension-type programs that give students the option of paying substantially more to attend a class that would not have been financed without the increased cost. Under the proposed plan, these courses would only be available for winter and summer sessions.
During the afternoon, Williams’ office was filled with students discussing the proposed bill with him and his staff. Though Williams said his proposed bill would be a viable method to increase the amount of classes offered at community colleges, it has not gained approval among students who voiced concern that the addition of unsubsidized courses — costing several hundred dollars more than the standard class offerings— will increase the financial strain on students of lower income.
Associated Student President for Santa Monica College Parker Jean, whose school recently rejected an academic plan similar to AB 955, said the bill did not address the need for affordable courses at the community college level.
“We must keep community college as an equalizer and promote equal access for everybody,” Jean said. “We must also think in the long term instead of reactive short-term solutions that could potentially change the structure of education.”
According to Jean, the impact of these new bills, as well as the role that students will play in influencing them, remains to be seen.
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of March 6th, 2013’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by John D. Rodgers of the Daily Nexus.