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?’”
“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.
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