Budget cuts, teacher layoffs and over-crowded classrooms have been headline stories across California in recent years, but Palisades High students were warned last week that now is the time to really pay attention to the crisis threatening their school year.'
'We're in the worst of it,' said Brooks Allen, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, when he talked to members of the Human Rights Watch Student Task Force chapter and other students on October 10. 'Now is the time to step up and fight for your education.'
Allen, a fierce advocate for educational opportunity, predicted that if the two education funding initiatives on the November 6 ballot'Proposition 30 and Proposition 38'are defeated, 'trigger cuts' could go into effect in the middle of this school year, and worst-case scenario budgets will be implemented.
This could mean slashing 20 days from the current school year across California and shrinking the year to just 160 days, creating 'the shortest school year in the industrialized world,' Allen said.
An early end to the school year would further undermine a public education system in California that already ranks 50th nationwide in student-teacher ratio and 46th in per pupil spending, and laid off 11 percent of the teaching workforce between 2007 and 2011.
'We are looking into an abyss'the worst in our lifetime,' Allen said, and he praised the STF for taking the initiative with its current campaign'fighting for the right to a quality public education for all students.
Back in September, Allen told student leaders from 14 STF schools across the Los Angeles region at a conference at UCLA, 'You have a strong voice if you choose to exercise it.' Last week at Pali, he provided some specific ideas.
He urged the 18 year olds to register to vote, and to encourage their friends of voting age and adults in their family to follow suit. 'When you leave today, make sure you share what you have learned with people who vote,' said Allen, who also emphasized the importance of the students' voice and action within the community. 'Change stems from our young leaders because their young voices can create much more change in Sacramento and beyond.'
Allen told the STF: 'The student voice doesn't get heard enough. When I am in Sacramento for hearings, you do not have student advocates'except on a very rare occasion. The whole group [referring the Senate Education Committee] gets silent when students do come up; all business grinds to a halt because they realize it's a special opportunity to actually hear directly from students.'
'Hearing Brooks Allen talk today was really energizing because it reminded me that we, as students, are not powerless,' said senior Kenzie Givens, the STF co-president. ''He demonstrated that it's possible to create lasting, impactful change within our community'that we can really stir up a lot of positive, progressive energy.'
Allen's visit to PaliHi is one of many events the HRW Student Task Force is holding this year to advocate for the right to education. Pali and four other chapters will co-host an Assembly candidate/education issues forum at 7 p.m. on October 25 at the Santa Monica Main Library. The League of Women Voters of Santa Monica is the co-sponsor.
The Pali STF meets every Wednesday at lunch under the guidance of teachers Angelica Pereyra and Sandra Martin. Visit: www.hrwstf.org.