Thousands of California teachers began gathering in San Francisco for a rally that will then move by bus to Sacramento. Rallies and teach-ins are planned across the state as schools face massive layoffs, program cuts and shorter school years.
"We're here to make a statement," said Dennis Kelly, president of United Educators of San Francisco, which represents more than 6,000 employees of the San Francisco Unified School District.
The protests will wrap up with a sit-in Friday at the state Capitol.
The teachers union is asking lawmakers to extend temporary increases to taxes on sales, personal income and vehicles that expire June 30. Gov. Jerry Brown favors a special election so California voters can decide how to close the state's remaining $15.4-billion deficit.
The upcoming rallies mark an escalation of efforts by the 325,000-member California Teachers Association, which waited while Brown tried to negotiate a deal with Republicans to put his proposal before voters. Since that effort failed, the teachers are now delivering their message directly.
"They have the opportunity to extend these taxes legislatively, and we believe that is the right way to go," said association president David Sanchez.
Without a renewal of the tax increases, Brown and Democratic lawmakers warn that the state will be forced to make deep spending cuts that affect the lives of nearly every Californian and further erode the quality of the public school system.
"If you think the $113 million we cut last year was something, wait until you see what $84 million more means," said San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Carlos Garcia, addressing the rally. "I think it's time to get mad as hell and say enough. This is a disgrace, a national disgrace."
Six in every 10 California school districts already have reduced the number of school days in the academic year since the Legislature allowed such moves to save money. The mandatory limit had been 180 days.
The Associated Press contributed to this story