BERKELEY Calif. – Rowdy protesters blocked the main gates of a California university Thursday amid campus protests across the nation against deep cuts in education funding.
University of California, Santa Cruz provost David Kliger said there were reports of protesters carrying weapons and damaging a vehicle. Police did not immediately confirm the reports.
An advisory posted on the school Web site urged people to avoid the campus because of safety concerns.
It said a windshield was reported smashed and protesters had photographed the license plate of a staff member trying to enter the campus.
Marches, strikes, teach-ins and walkouts were planned nationwide in what was being called the March 4th National Day of Action for Public Education.
Organizers said hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and parents were expected to participate in the demonstrations.
Some university officials said they supported the protests as long as they remained peaceful.
“My heart and my support are with everybody and anybody who wants to stand up for public education,” University of California President Mark Yudof said in a statement. “Public education drives a society’s ability to progress and to prosper.”
The steep economic downturn has forced states to slash funding to K-12 schools, community colleges and universities to cope with plummeting tax revenue.
Experts said schools and colleges could face more severe financial trouble over the next few years as they drain federal stimulus money that temporarily prevented widespread layoffs and classroom cuts.
Protest actions were held at most of the 10 University of California campuses, 23 California State University campuses and many of the state’s 110 community colleges.
Demonstrations were also planned at universities in New York, Alabama, Michigan and Massachusetts.
Students, teachers and school employees from across California were gathering in Sacramento for a midday rally at the Capitol to urge lawmakers to restore funding to public schools.
Large regional rallies were planned at San Francisco Civic Center, Pershing Square in Los Angeles, Balboa Park in San Diego and public plazas in other cities.
Education cuts have been particularly devastating in California, which has been grappling with massive budget shortfalls for the past two years.
In response to a 20 percent reduction in state funding, the University of California and California State University systems have imposed furloughs on faculty and staff, sharply reduced course offerings, turned away thousands of qualified students and raised tuition by more than 30 percent.
“You’re paying more and you’re getting less for it,” said Katelyn Rauch, a senior majoring in political science at California State University, Channel Islands. “Classes are being cut, students aren’t able to graduate on time, entire majors are being closed.”
California’s K-12 schools were preparing to lay off tens of thousands of teachers, pack more students into classrooms and scrap many academic programs because of deteriorating finances.
Many of the demonstrations Thursday were being organized by student groups, faculty associations and employee unions that often have a contentious relationship with the universities.
Associated Press Writer Marcus Wohlsen in San Francisco contributed to this report.