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5,000 students protest education cuts at Capitol rally in Sacramento

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POSTED March 5, 2012 8:48 p.m.


SACRAMENTO  (AP) — As many as 5,000 college students and other protesters converged Monday on California's state capital to protest rising tuition rates and demand that state lawmakers restore funding for higher education.

The mood was energetic as students assembled on the steps of the state Capitol, waving signs and chanting "They say cut back, we say fight back." The crowd was a sea of red and white, as many wore T-shirts that said "Refund our Education" and "March March."

Police officers lined up en masse on nearby streets, keeping watch from a distance, and a California Highway Patrol helicopter flew overhead as protesters arrived.

Buses brought hundreds of students in from as far away as the University of California, Riverside, 450 miles south of Sacramento.

Sam Resnick, 20, a history student at Pasadena City College, brought a tent with him to the rally.

"We want to show the state government that we care about our education, and we're not going to leave until they make it a priority," Resnick said.

Despite participation from outside groups, including Occupy movement supporters and supporters of a proposed tax on millionaires, student organizers tried to keep the focus on education cuts that have led to steep tuition increases, restricted enrollment and fewer classes and student services at California's public colleges and universities.

Tuition has nearly doubled in the past five years, to $13,000 for resident undergraduates at University of California schools and to $6,400 at California State University schools. Community college fees are set to rise to $46 per unit by this summer, up from $20 per unit in 2007.

Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, urged the students in a speech to use social media to spread the word about how much debt they are forced to take on to attend public colleges and universities.

"For thousands of students across California, the debt is too much to take on and the bill is too high," he said.

But at one point, the crowd drowned Perez out, chanting "Show us."

Many Democratic lawmakers support a ballot initiative proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown that would fund education and public safety programs by temporarily raising income taxes on people who make more than $250,000 a year and temporarily increasing the sales tax by half a cent.

The University of California Student Association has endorsed a rival initiative proposed for the November ballot that would tax millionaires and earmark the revenue for education. The California Federation of Teachers and state PTA support that initiative.

Stefano Sahalamacchia, 22, a student at Citrus College in Glendora, near Los Angeles, drew a loud response as he recited a list of programs endangered by budget cuts, including sports, student newspapers and student groups.

"We shouldn't choose any programs to cut — we should save them all," Sahalamacchia said. He said in an interview that he lost his apartment in August and is working two jobs to scrape by while attending school.

By mid-day, there was one arrest, said CHP spokeswoman Fran Clader. Paul Anthony Jones, 34, was arrested outside the Capitol for being in possession of a switchblade knife, she said.

"Our job is to be here to allow them to peacefully demonstrate and hopefully that's how the rest of the day goes," Clader said.

After the rally, hundreds of students lined up to enter the Capitol and filled conference rooms and hallways inside. Some planned to drop in on lawmakers' offices to lobby for increased funding for higher education, while others planned to occupy the rotunda area.

As word spread of that plan, CHP officers lined up on all four corners of the building to block more students from entering the rotunda area.

Outside the building, Rory Rush, 21, part of the Occupy Oakland movement, said his group shares the same concerns as students about cuts to public programs.

"We've been getting a lot of attention doing what we're doing. We're here to help," he said. Rush said some members of his group were prepared to occupy the state Capitol when it closes Monday evening, risking arrest.



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