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Cal State, UC students join Occupy to protest education cuts at Capitol

March 5, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
A large demonstration was at the state Capitol on Monday. Cal State, UC and community college students protested cuts to higher education.

Thousands attended the "Fund our Future" march and rally. Some marched from Berkeley to Sacramento beginning last Thursday. Demonstrators were protesting a "disinvestment in higher education."

"People leaving the financial aid office in tears because they realize they aren't going to have, to be able to afford an education," said UC Berkeley student Lark Omura. "And really, the making of public education unattainable for massive sectors of the population, which is a terrifying thought."

They say proposed cuts and tuition hikes are not the way to make up for a budget shortfall. Among their demands is to stop raising tuition. They also don't want Cal Grants to raise the GPA requirement, making it more difficult for students to become eligible.

"No more will we allow you to make college a luxury," said Los Angeles Community College student Brandon Batham. "No more will we sit by without an affordable, effective higher education."

"People are upset, certainly," said Cal State Long Beach student Sarah Vagts. "Rising costs, no availability of classes- you are paying more, you are getting less."

Democrats said since they've had no Republican support for raising taxes, and slashing was the only option to balance the budget. Using their majority vote powers, Democrats vowed to back Governor Jerry Brown's tax initiative- making textbooks cheaper- as well as passing the Middle-Class Scholarship Plan, which gives a two-thirds tuition break for certain students.

"I have participated in making billions of dollars in cuts to higher education and I've hated every minute of it," said State Sen. President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).

Protesters say the legislature should cut other areas, including the salaries of regents and school administrators. A group called "Refund California" pushed a tax initiative called the "Millionaire's Tax," which would raise the taxes on the state's wealthy. Much of the money would go to education, as well as social programs.

Republicans say higher taxes are unnecessary because there's enough money to fund education.

"We're also funding high speed rail at a time when that should not be a priority. We should be focusing on education," said Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa).

There was a heavy security and police presence at the Capitol. Occupy Education demonstrators went into the Capitol building and tried to disrupt business. At one point, California Highway Patrol had to close one area down for better crowd management. The building closed at 6:00 p.m. - many said they were staying until they get arrested.

"Several hundred of us have already committed to staying here because we know that unless we really put pressure on them they won't listen to us," said UC Berkeley graduate student Jennifer Tucker.

Monday's rally comes four days after college students held rallies, marches, walkouts and teach-ins at about 30 campuses across California, including a local rally last week in Long Beach.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.