Boston Students Walk Out to Protest Budget Cuts

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Boston Public Schools face a multi-million dollar deficit next school year, and students are concerned. One student interviewed by Boston.com decided that even if she and her classmates wrote letters to officials of the city and attended budget meetings, it would not express how fearful and worried they are.

So she and two fellow students scheduled a district-wide walk-out to that took place on Monday at 11:30 am. The trio posted a letter on a social media site encouraging Boston Public School students to leave their classrooms and walk to Beacon Hill, where a rally was held in front of the State House to protest the proposed budget cuts.

Allison Pohle, reporting for the Boston Globe, says the deficit is necessary because of rising expenses and a decrease in state and federal aid to schools.

“The education you are going to be provided with would be an education which will make it difficult and maybe even impossible to get into the college of your dreams,” Lopez wrote in the letter. “You won’t be able to learn at full capacity if you don’t have the classes you need. If students are engaged in school then there would be less cracks for our youth to even look towards violence. We have lost too many young lives already.”

Still, the precise amount of the cuts has not yet been resolved. At first, the budget shortage was expected to be around $50 million, but the office of the mayor has stated that the total will be less when the final budget is voted on by the school committee March 23.

Other protests against the budget cuts included a rally held by hundreds of parents, teachers, and students in downtown Boston during the vacation week in February. Another group made up of mostly parents demonstrated outside the location where Mayor Marty Walsh’s “State of the City” speech took place in January.

But Monday’s rally was the first student-coordinated rally. Teachers were encouraged by Superintendent Tommy Chang to use the demonstration as a chance to address with their students the manner in which advocacy can be used to bring about change.

Chang went on to say that students were expected to act “respectfully and safely,” and to be in classes during instructional times. On Friday night, robocalls and emails were sent to parents from the district asking them to direct their children to stay in school.

Jeremy C. Fox and Aimee Ortiz of the Boston Globe reported that during the protest, students could be heard chanting slogans, such as “Our education, not your money,” as they, and students in several other cities, complained that the reductions would reduce the quality of their learning.

Approximately 1,000 young people participated in the demonstration which was, for the most part, peaceful.

BPS has a total annual budget of $1.1 billion, according to Boston School Committee Chairman Michael D. O’Neill, who spoke at a Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting in February. The committee is discussing ideas for getting rid of the $50 million deficit before the board adds 1,500 seats to existing Massachusetts charter schools.

Even though Chang announced earlier in the year that no schools would be closing, he continued by explaining that roughly $20 million would be eliminated from the central office, and as much as $12 million would be taken from the per-student funding formula. The result is a diminished operating budget for BPS, reports Michelle Williams of The Republican.

WFXT-TV’s Michael Henrich says the student walk-out had to do with charter schools. Ninety minutes before the protest, lawmakers were conducting a hearing concerning lifting the cap on state charter schools. He also reported that the Boston Youth Organization was responsible for the demonstration and had been pushing for improved quality of education in the city since 1996.

The Boston Education Justice Alliance was supportive of the protest as well. Both groups feel that the expansion of charter schools in the Commonwealth is taking funding away from traditional districts’ budgets.