Over three thousand students staged a walk-out on Monday to protest impending budget cuts to Boston Public Schools. Students marched downtown, through Boston Common, and rallied at the state house in an inspiring display of student power:
Despite numerous calls and texts to their parents that threatened to mark them absent if they walked out, about 3,650 students made their way toward Boston Common, the State House and Faneuil Hall, where they demanded more funding for Boston Public Schools.
The city’s public schools are facing a deficit due to rising expenses and a decline in state and federal aid. The initial budget shortfall was estimated at about $50 million, though the mayor’s office has said the total figure will be lower when the school committee votes on the final budget March 23.
Students from schools all across Boston were represented at the march, and despite what some observers claimed, this was entirely the students' idea:
Some officials have even claimed the protest was actually organized by unions working behind the scenes. But the students are adamant: It was their idea, and their idea alone.
The notion of a walk-out was hatched on Feb. 27, when three sophomores at Snowden International High School attended a leadership conference at Harvard University and felt inspired after they learned about successful college protests against racism and sexism.
“We knew that all the schools in the district would be impacted by the budget cuts,” said Jailyn Lopez, a sophomore at Snowden who helped organize the protest. “We knew at our school that we might lose foreign language programs and teachers we liked. We decided to do something about it.”
If one listens to the voices of the students themselves, it is clear they know exactly what the stakes are, and why they chose to leave class and protest:
In addition to speaking out against the cuts, many students also testified later that day in a State House hearing on whether Massachusetts should lift its cap on charter schools.
Direct Action Gets the Goods
As WBUR reported this morning, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has now backtracked from his original budget plan and announced a revised plan that would save funds in ways that would be less likely to harm students and the curriculum:
Just days after a large-scale walkout of students across Boston over proposed districtwide budget cuts, Mayor Marty Walsh says high schools will be spared from reduced funding.
School officials proposed closing the district’s potential $50 million budget shortfall for the 2016-’17 school year with cuts to the central office and to the district’s per-pupil funding formula.
Instead, the school department will save $6 million by delaying new programs and taking funds from other budget items to prevent reductions in popular programs and teaching positions, the Boston Globe reported.
Superintendent Tommy Chang is set to present the new proposal to the School Committee next week.
There are many lessons to be learned from the inspiring actions of the past few months, including the nationwide "walk-ins" on February 17th. Perhaps most importantly, this week we saw over 3,000 reminders that when people organize themselves and each other to stand up and fight for fairness and equity, we tap into a power that can change the world.