BERKELEY, Calif. —Students staged rallies on college campuses around the country Thursday in protests against deep education cuts. The protests turned violent as demonstrators threw punches and ice chunks in Wisconsin and blocked university gates and smashed car windows in California.
At least 15 protesters were arrested by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee police after as many as 150 students gathered at the student union then moved to an administrative building to deliver petitions to the school chancellor. A melee ensued after a woman encouraged protesters to rush the building, university spokesman Tom Luljak said. No serious injuries were reported.
The school was among dozens of campuses nationwide hit with marches, strikes, teach-ins and walkouts in what was billed as 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.
The steep economic downturn has forced states to slash funding to K-12 schools, community colleges and universities to cope with plummeting tax revenue while implementing tuition hikes. 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.
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In Wisconsin, more than 25,000 students have been put on a waiting list after the state's premier financial aid program ran out of money because of increased demand. California's public universities have been hard hit by the downturn, and protesters had a sizable presence in the state Thursday.
In Northern California, rowdy protesters blocked major gates at two universities and smashed the windows of a car. Protesters at the University of California, Santa Cruz surrounded the car while its uninjured driver was inside. Earlier, demonstrators blocked campus gates.
At the University of California, Berkeley, a small group of protesters formed a human chain blocking a main gate to the campus. Later in the day, hundreds gathered for a peaceful rally.
"We're one of the largest economies in the world, and we can't fund the basics," said Mike Scullin, 29, a graduate student in education who plans to become a high school teacher. "We're throwing away a generation of students by defunding education."