Cesar Chavez’s Thoughts a While Back on What our Schools Are Facing Today

 As we consider Proposition 30, we might want to reflect what Cesar Chavez had to say in Sacramento on April 3, 1991.  (A transcript of this speech is in the United Farm Workers Papers at Wayne State University.) A friend, David Valladolid, who is the President and Chief Executive Officer of PIQE (Parent Institute for Quality Education), emailed this vital piece of history to me.

This statement was made to Cesar:

“People may ask, ‘Why should the farm workers be concerned about the condition of public schools in California?’”

Cesar replied:

“Who do you think are in the public schools today in California?   Public schools serve more farm workers than any other publicly financed social institution in society. Public schools provide the greatest opportunity for upward mobility to Hispanics and to all ethnic minorities in this state.  Yet today, it is a Republican governor and his allies in the legislature who are less concerned than we are about preserving public schools. That is ironic because it was not always the case.

“In the 1960s and early ’70s, another Republican governor—Ronald Reagan—was leading the fight for more support of public education. But there was a big difference. Back then, the majority of public school children were white, and they were from middle – or upper middle-income families.

“Today, the majority of children in our public schools are minority—African American, Hispanic, Asian—and they are from poor and working-class families.  Back then, under Ronald Reagan, Californians spent 5 cents out of every dollar of personal income on public schools. Today, under Pete Wilson, Californians spend a little over 3 cents out of every dollar on education. And if he has his way, it will go down even more.

“There is another institution in society that is funded by the state and that is dominated by minorities: the state prisons—and they have fared very well.

“Over the last nine years, under Governor Deukmejian and now Governor Wilson, California has carried out a policy of dramatically expanding state prisons while it starves public schools.  What message do those priorities send? Does this mean that the only way our sons and daughters can get recognition from the state of California is by using drugs and committing crimes?

“We have looked into the future and the future is ours! Asians and Hispanics and African Americans are the future in California. That trend cannot be stopped. It is inevitable. Then why do they want to cut funds for schools and other vital services—now?  Why do Governor Wilson and his allies seek to reduce the commitment to public education—now? If the majority of children in school were white and if they lived in affluent suburban communities, we wouldn’t even be debating how much money to spend on public education.

“But it is our children—the children of farm workers and Hispanics and other minorities—who are seeking a better life. It is for them, for their future—and for the future of California—that we must say “no” to suspending Proposition 98.  We must say ‘no’ to cutting essential services for the needy instead of tax loopholes for the wealthy.

 “We must say ‘no’ to making our children and their teachers scapegoats for the budget crisis.”

What we’re confronting today is no different than what we faced back then as far as: the demographics of our K-12 schools and the devastating funding cuts that have been implemented statewide in K-16 education beginning in 2008 are concerned.

So the question becomes: What do we as a society do today about this prophetic, accurate and insightful statement on educational funding cuts that Cesar Chavez made 21 years ago?

And the answer is: we stop scapegoating our teachers and go to the polls to give them what they need. And we do that by voting for Proposition 30.

And then we set about the business of always being vigilant when it comes to serving the needs of our children – and all learners.

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/sanjoselibrary/2852269072/



Ernie McCray

I was raised in a loving and alive home, in a black neighborhood filled with colorful characters in Tucson, Arizona. Such an environment gave me a hint that life has to be grabbed by the tail as tight as a pimple on a mosquito's butt. With no BS and a whole lot of love. So, from those days to now I get up every morning set on making the world a better place. On my good foot*, and I hope my writing reflects that. *an old black expression

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  1. avatarJEC says

    Twenty years ago – we saw education in decline from where it had been twenty years before. And twenty years hence were did we end up? The quote did get me remembering Ronald Reagan though – and my memory is at odds with the reference made by Chavez. My father was a party activist – Republican party activist in the 1960’s. Worked for an Assemblyman in Sacramento. In the mid-60’s Republicans were fighting Pat Brown’s attempts to start charging tuition in the State Colleges. But not Reagan. He didn’t care. When he took office in 1967 California was tied with Ohio as having the best considered educational system in the country. Number One. Eight years later California ranked 26th or 28th depending on whose measure you chose. My father and his Republican buddies referred to Reagan as the Anti-Education governor and president. So Chaez’s reference to Reagan supporting public education when he first took office in 1967? Perhaps political pandering. But don’t believe it Reagan devastasted California’s public education system – damage that to this day has not been repaired. But – yes, one more ‘but’ – can we honestly blame a single individual for our collective failures?

    • avatarErnie McCray says

      I hear you with the question, “can we honestly blame a single individual for our collective failures?” We do that so often in our society, don’t we?

  2. avatarRB says

    We have a Democrat as Governor and Democrats in the majority of the Senate and Assembly. There is only one party that has decide to fund their pet issues, pet agencies, and pet projects rather than fund the schools first.

    • avatarShelley Plumb says

      Not exactly true. The legislature needs a 2/3 majority to pass anything. The GOP minority blocks much legislation.

      • avatarRB says

        Not exactly true. . The legislature needs a 2/3 majority only to increase taxes or revenues, not to pass a budget and not to fund the schools fully. The Democrats in Sacramento can allocate funds in the budget with a simple majority vote. The Democrats in Sacramento are currently in violation of Prop 98’s school funding requirements and owe the schools money from past budgets. The way they violate Prop 98 is by calling money not paid to the schools as required, deferrals.

  3. avatarConsuelo Manriquez says

    Unfortunately, in poor barrios, our students continue to be under-served. I started my teaching career in San Diego Unified in 1993 and things are worse for our students and our teachers are blamed for it. The “achievement gap” continue to exist for students of color. I analyze data, speak to students, talk to parents, work with researchers, and question teachers to try to find an answer to this educational crisis and I cannot take the easy way out by saying “we need to end poverty.” The bottom line, it is hard to be a an effective, caring, and hard-working administrator and teacher and very few give it all they have. Through my research, I found that cultural proficiency has made major impact in under-performing schools, yet it is a practice that is hardly ever implemented due to the fear that racism may come into play.
    Yes Ernie, the demographics are different today and we do need to do things different in our schools but fear wins all the time and I am an optimistic person.