Sacramento went #RedForEd on May 22 as thousands of educators, parents, students and supporters marched in the streets, filled the State Capitol and rallied in support of public education on CTA’s Day of Action.
A sea of red covered the Capitol lawn and flowed through the streets with educators standing together for the funding and protection that public schools need and all students deserve. The day was a celebration of the movement for strong public schools, the fight against privatization and those who see kids as a way to make a quick buck, and the power of dedicated educators and community united.
The educators’ uprising started last year in West Virginia before spreading across the nation—Arizona, Oklahoma, Kentucky, North Carolina—and landed in the streets of Los Angeles, Sacramento and Oakland this year, captivating attention and hearts worldwide. Across the nation, brave educators are standing together, marching in the streets and filling Capitol buildings to fight for each other, their students, the profession and public education.
“It’s happening in the ‘Red States’ and all over the country now,” said Chaz Garcia, Oakland Education Association (OEA) Second Vice President, on the way to the Day of Action in Sacramento. “And everybody’s watching us in California. That’s why we better bring it today.”
And that’s exactly what happened when thousands of scarlet-clad supporters of public education filled the Capitol rotunda, singing “Which Side Are You On?”—the classic Pete Seeger song that Oakland ethnic studies teacher Marisa Villegas-Ramirez turned into one of the anthems of the Oakland strike. An ear-shattering cheer arose as a long red banner unfurled from the second-floor railing, reading: “Newsom, CA Legislature, Richest State, 4th From Bottom in Funding, WHY?”
For an hour, the rotunda remained packed with #RedForEd supporters, whose songs and chants expressed some of the goals of the movement, “books, supplies, lower class size!” These combined voices carried through the halls of the Capitol into the Assembly chamber, where a floor vote was underway on AB 1505, one of four pending bills that would increase accountability for privately managed charter schools. The bill would give local school boards sole authority for approving charters in their districts and allow them to consider the financial impact of a charter when evaluating a proposal.
UTLA/NEA Vice President Cecily Myart-Cruz was leading a chant in the rotunda when word came that AB 1505 support on the Assembly floor had stalled three votes short of the majority needed to pass it onto the State Senate. One of the leaders of the historic strike in Los Angeles, Myart-Cruz squinted at the vote tally on a cell phone, searching for L.A.-area Assembly members who had not yet voted on AB 1505 or voted against it.
“What?! He hasn’t voted?” she said, fingers texting a message frantically, as she tried to whip the votes needed to pass the bill.
For the next hour, this scene played out in the halls of the Capitol, on the lawn outside and in communities throughout California. Educators called, emailed and tweeted at legislators who had not yet voted to urge them to get off the sidelines and show which side they are on in the fight for public education. The energy in the building reached a fever pitch as it seemed the effort might come up just short.
And then, suddenly, the stalemate ended when four Assembly members chose a side and stood up for schools with their votes, pushing the total to 42 (the final vote tallied 44 Ayes) and passing AB 1505 out of the Assembly. Thousands cheered in unison and then turned to hug the closest person in a red shirt before letting out a sigh (and cry) of relief. The energy of the #RedForEd Day of Action and this major victory forever cementing this day in the history books of CTA and California public education.
The moment followed a march of thousands that snaked around the State Capitol to spotlight the detrimental impacts of privately managed charters that were spotlighted during the strikes in Los Angeles and Oakland, where unchecked charter proliferation has caused widespread closures of neighborhood public schools and made disproportionate impacts on communities of color.
Villegas-Ramirez said it’s hard to see the charter school industry use communities to further their harmful agenda.
“They’re exploiting families who just want what’s best for their kids,” she said.
Garcia said families need more information about how privately managed charters impact local district and hurt neighborhood schools, noting that it’s an abstract issue that needs additional context for people who aren’t already in the know.
“Our strike brought some attention to charter impacts but there’s a lot of education that needs to happen,” she said.
The four charter accountability bills—AB 1505, 1506, 1507 and SB 756—are all winding their way through the Legislature, hopefully to one day meet the business end of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pen. But these important bills aren’t the only goal of the #RedForEd Movement in California: educators, families and allies statewide are urging lawmakers to address the chronic underfunding of our public schools. California ranks 44th in the nation in the amount of money it spends per student, a shocking fact considering California is the fifth largest economy in the world.
“If you’re tired of a system that benefits only a few, raise your fist in the air and say ‘enough is enough!’” said Eric Heins, as thousands of fists shot up into the sky. “We need to fully fund our public schools!”