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Governor Responds to State Teacher Rally

More than 100 teachers from the Long Beach Unified School District helped persuade Gov. Gray Davis last week to boost education funding. The teachers joined thousands of other California educators, students and parents who rallied in Sacramento, demanding a fair share of the state’s multi-billion-dollar budget surplus. The day after the rally on the steps of the Capitol, Davis agreed to shift an additional $1.8 billion to schools. Pending legislative approval, the proposal would begin to restore money that was withheld from teachers and schools during California’s recession of the early 1990s. Local teachers considered Davis’ decision a major victory. Davis also proposed exempting teachers from state income tax as a means of signifying the importance of teachers and their contributions to the life and economy of California. "We are making the greatest demands on teachers, students and schools, while at the same time, accumulating one of the largest state budget surpluses in history," said Cliff Kusaba, president of the Teachers Association of Long Beach. "Funds are now available to begin returning California to the position of ‘best schools in the nation.’" Teachers at the rally wanted schools to be funded at the national average, Kusaba said. The latest proposal would lift California schools about two-thirds of the way toward that goal. California spends about $1,000 less per student than the national average. Calling last week’s rally "a great day," Kusaba said, "If we don’t go and speak up for the children we work with, other people aren’t going to do it." LBUSD sent more teachers to the rally than any other district in Los Angeles County. The LBUSD teachers’ same-day, round-trip journey to Sacramento required more than 14 hours of travel on three buses. Teachers will watch with guarded optimism as the proposal winds its way through the Legislature. If it is ultimately approved, it would mean millions of additional dollars for LBUSD’s teachers and students, "and that’s good for everybody," Kusaba said. By law, the state budget must be in place by July 1. In a show of teamwork, LBUSD was the only large school district to support the teachers’ Sacramento trip by having district administrators fill in as substitutes in the classroom. "At the rally, the comment I kept hearing from teachers in other districts was that they couldn’t believe our administrative staff went in and substituted for our teachers," said Mary Stanton, president of the Board of Education. "I was proud of our people." "That kind of support from administrators is almost unheard of," Kusaba agreed. "I greatly appreciate that administrators were willing to cover classes for our teachers. It really showed a spirit of cooperation." The California Teachers Association was prepared to move ahead with a statewide ballot initiative in November to raise California school spending to the national average.