By Ben Velderman
NEWARK, N.J – About 400 Newark high school students staged a walkout Tuesday noon to protest Gov. Chris Christie’s education budget, which protestors say leaves their schools severely underfunded.
The students – most of whom belong to the Newark Students Union – headed to nearby Rutgers University “where the Assembly Budget Committee was holding a daylong hearing on Christie’s proposed education budget,” reports the Associated Press.
The students were joined by protestors from various left-wing groups, including the American Federation of Teachers, the Newark Teachers Union, New Jersey Working Families, and the Hip Hop Students Union from a nearby community college, reports the Newark Patch.
There’s no way to tell how much the adults in those other groups influenced the students’ opinions about the state budget, or their decision to walk out.
One Newark teacher, Freda Barrow, “took a personal day to attend the protest so she could see her former students living the values she taught them,” reports NJ.com.
The students want state lawmakers to restore the $56 million that’s been cut out of the city’s school budget, which they say unfairly targets urban students, reports the AP.
“For the last three years, Gov. Christie has waged a concerted attack on Newark students,” said student organizer Jaysen Bazile.
The student protestors said the state budget cuts have led to teacher layoffs, outdated classroom technology, the elimination of extracurricular activities, and holes in classroom walls, the AP reports.
The district’s financial problems were made clear a few weeks ago when Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson announced that the district is facing a $57 million deficit next year.
Newark’s money woes are rather surprising, considering that the district spends roughly $7,000 more per student than the average New Jersey district.
If money is so tight, it’s unclear why the state (which has operated the Newark district over the last 18 years) overspends by such an excessive amount. It’s not as if all the extra spending has led to great levels of student achievement. By most counts, Newark schools are doing a poor job of getting students to read or perform math problems at grade level.
But if a lack of money is to blame for the district’s abysmal performance, why are state leaders not using the $100 million donation that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave to Newark schools two years ago? (That amount has grown to $154 million as matching grants have continued to roll in.)
NBC News reported last fall that district officials have spent only $17 million of Zuckerberg’s grant. What are they waiting for?
Those issues apparently weren’t raised at Tuesday’s walkout.
Instead, students used the occasion to also speak out against planned “school closings and excessive standardized testing,” reports InTheseTimes.com.
The Newark walkout followed “a weekend of strategizing at the second annual ‘Occupy the Department of Education’ conference from which more decentralized actions against corporate school reform are expected to emerge this spring,” according to InTheseTimes.com
The article doesn’t say whether or not the Newark students were encouraged to walk out of class by the left-wingers in charge of organizing last weekend’s conference.
Perhaps it’s all just a happy coincidence.
After the protest, students headed “across the street to a pizzeria,” the Newark Patch notes.
Students who participated in the walkout expect to be suspended for their actions, reports NJ.com.