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Thousands Protest Budget Cuts at Calif. Colleges

LONG BEACH, Calif. – More than 10,000 people marched, waved signs and occupied buildings at college campuses across California on Wednesday in a show of opposition to state budget cuts to education that could lead to higher tuition, larger class sizes and lower enrollment.

The rallies were part of a day of protest planned for all 23 California State University campuses. Similar events took place in states such as Massachusetts and New Jersey, where legislators are slashing education spending to close huge budget shortfalls.

In California, students peacefully occupied administration buildings in protest on at least six campuses, said Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the California Faculty Association, which worked with students and employees to organize the demonstrations.

He estimated about 12,000 students, faculty members and others participated in the rallies statewide.

In Long Beach, about 800 of those demonstrators marched to the student services administration building which had already shut down as a precaution carrying signs reading “Education is a right” and “No more greed.”

“I’m just mad at the government for funding more for prison and war than for education,” said Cecillee Espanol, a 22-year-old psychology major at the university’s Long Beach campus, who said she’s going to have to get a job next year to cover the cost of her classes.

Another 1,000 people rallied at California State University, Sacramento, including about 100 who occupied a campus building.

Deep budget cuts in California during the height of the recession two years ago led to sharp tuition hikes, employee furloughs, course cutbacks and reduced enrollment at the CSU and University of California systems.

The state restored some of that funding last year. But California’s public colleges and universities face another round of painful cuts as Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature seek to close the state’s $26.6 billion budget deficit.

“We’ve been carving away and carving away and carving away,” said Lillian Taiz, president of the California Faculty Association. “The path we are on is almost suicidal for the state.”

UC and CSU would lose $500 million under the governor’s budget proposal, but his plan depends on voters approving temporary increases in sales, vehicle and personal income taxes. So far, Brown hasn’t secured the Republican support needed to hold a special election to even allow a vote on the tax question.

Without that tax revenue, the state’s public colleges and universities could see much deeper cuts, which could lead to soaring tuition bills, fewer undergraduate seats and other drastic measures.

Faculty leaders say the cuts threaten to reduce student access to Cal State, sometimes called the People’s University, which serves large numbers of low-income students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college.

Brian Delas Armas, a 26-year-old master’s degree student, said some of the anthropology classes he is required to take aren’t being offered regularly anymore. Jason Pinzon, a 19-year-old freshman at California State University, Long Beach, said the more than $4,000 in fees he pays each year makes it difficult to cover his expenses.

“This semester I just barely had enough for my books,” Pinzon said.

Faculty members say the younger generation is being cheated out of the kind of education they received in California and that enabled them to pursue their careers.

Taiz said she is the prime example. She was a mother of two children and on welfare when she went to school and became a history professor.

“This is an investment,” she said. “It has made us the envy of the world.”

Associated Press writers Terence Chea and Marcus Wohlsen in San Francisco and Adam Weintraub in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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