Annual March in March takes capitol by storm


Students converge on the state capitol Monday, March 4 for the annual March in March. Students walked down the Capitol Mall to the west steps where a rally was held in support of education.

Pete Costanza

Hundreds of students from all around California marched across the Sacramento bridge Monday toward the west steps of the Capitol building in the annual March in March rally for education.

On the one-mile march, students took to the streets with their signs, their ideas and their voices chanting “no tax, no fees, education should be free” and “90 unit cap, that’s a bunch of crap.”

The event was planned by the Student Senate of California Community Colleges (SSCCC) and its intent was to deliver a message to state legislators about what is important to students.

Luis Zambrano, a business major from Oxnard Community College, stood on a concrete block in front of Embassy Suites cheering on his fellow constituents. The assembly from Oxnard drove through the night from southern California to take part in this event.

“It’s good to see all these students out here gathering together… focusing on one cause,” Zambrano said. “Funding is a big issue all around the country. I don’t think that we’re doing enough looking around at what we actually need to cut.”

The protest drew bystanders out of adjacent buildings that overshadowed the street. William Hain, who works as a tax administrator with the Board of Equalization, shared his views and expressed support for the community college system.

“I’m all for keeping education as cheap as possible but I don’t know … if we can provide that,” Hain said. “What we do is we collect taxes so I get the flip side of this. I’m all for free services but I do understand that somebody’s got to pay.”

Hain is a graduate of Chico State but is also a product of the community college system, and offers up his position on the financial situation and what community colleges mean to him.

“One of the problems is we spend so much on administration and so little in the classroom… if we all spend it wisely like it was our own money instead of like it was the state’s money, I think we could do a lot more with the money we do have,” Hain said. “I think community colleges are an essential thing, especially for those kids that don’t come out of high school with straight A’s. So it provides opportunity and aren’t we supposed to be the land of opportunity?”

Although funding and the budget were the main topics that covered most of the homemade signs, a key issue was the proposed 90-unit cap that would make students who exceed the cap pay international student tuition rates, at $247 per unit, in contrast to the $46 per unit for in-state tuition.

Contra Costa Community College District Trustee. Greg Enholm, who represents LMC in ward 5, was on scene to witness the students in action.

“I have two minds on the 90-unit cap. Our goal has to be to get students who weren’t able to get in,” Enholm said, and to take care of those who “weren’t able to get the courses they need. It’s a low priority to me to have a cap, but it’s a higher priority to have those two.”

Enholm said he hopes to see education costs decrease for students.

“If we have a desire to have students get the education they need, we can’t put barriers in front of them, and the biggest barrier right now would be higher cost. I would want to see the tuition rate go down. Its way up at $46, it should be down to zero as far as I’m concerned,” said Enholm.

Enholm added that since Prop 30 passed California can now focus on restoring what education lost during the recession and making sure community colleges stay on track with keeping our classrooms full.

“Prop 30 is the start… we have to focus on making sure our budget isn’t cut… we really do need to get the message out that restoration means that we need to have more students taking classes… we just got our spring 2013 enrollment numbers and all the way across they‘re down,” said Enholm.

The main rally was over at around noon, and while most students dispersed into the side streets to explore Sacramento, others entered the Capitol to lobby on behalf of their respective districts.

Student Trustee Debora van Eckhardt, along with a few students and faculty members from the Contra Costa Community College District, paid a brief visit to Das Williams, Assembly member for the Santa Barbara region who made time to listen to the Contra Costa delegation.

The impromptu meeting with Williams was set up by van Eckhardt to address Assembly Bill 955, which Williams is proposing.

According to Williams, AB955 would increase access and help students get through the community college system faster by offering unsubsidized, full cost extension classes.

Students Jamaal Morgain and Jeff Phillips told Williams their personal stories and addressed the issues like the effects of the 90-unit cap.

“I felt like it really added a human aspect to the rules that they were about to put into place,” Phillips said of the meeting.

Phillips, who was sidelined from football after a hamstring injury, said the 90-unit cap, would be detrimental to his education goals if he ever decided to return to the community college system. He said he will have 80-units when he is ready to transfer, leaving him on the brink of reaching the cap. He hopes sharing his story, of being the child of an incarcerated parent and at one point a resource student, might have a positive impact on decision 408.236.1100 making at the capitol.

“It really let the assembly men and women see, that… if this person is affected there might be 10,000 other students that also have this same story and that will affect them in a negative way,” Philips said.

Under Assembly Bill 955, students would have the option to pay $201 per unit, the same rate as a non-resident, for a high demand extension class.

“What this comes from, is that we have a crisis of access right now. People cannot get the classes that they need to transfer and graduate,” Williams said. “Taking an extension course would be more expensive than their normal courses because it’s not state subsidized. It would be vastly cheaper than going to school and extra year or two.”

Glenn Appell, President of the United Faculty Union of the Contra Costa Community College District disagrees with Williams’s bill.

He said the reason why they decided to talk with Williams is because “he is a big wig on the education finance committee so he has a lot of power state wide in education issues.”

“We are not at all in favor of a two tier tuition system, for people who pay more would get priority even though he swears that is not his intent. That’s definitely the unintended consequence of that system,” Appell said in a phone interview.

“How many students do you know… that can go borrow 500 bucks to take a class? Where are they going to borrow, that 500 bucks?”

Appell said that most local representatives were busy or in meetings, and that although they only spoke with their aides, the lobbying experience was valuable for students.

“All of our meetings were quite successful. And I think it was an incredible learning experience for the students who were with us because all of them have never been inside of this kind of legislative environment,” Appell said.