California Students Pepper-Sprayed While Protesting Tuition Hikes Caused by Budget Cuts

Santa Monica College, a public community college in California, has been so strained by cuts to state education funding that it has had to turn away students, increase tuition, and charge higher fees for classes. The school recently announced a plan to raise prices on its most popular courses, creating an unequal, two-track cost system and raising problems for cash-strapped students who are already struggling to keep up with rising tuition rates.

Santa Monica students attempted to attend a Board of Trustees meeting yesterday but were largely denied, with only a limited number of students allowed in and requests to move to a larger venue rejected. When more students attempted to enter the meeting, about 30 were pepper sprayed by police, the Associated Press reports:

Two officers were apparently backed up against a wall, and began using force to keep the students out of the room. Steinman said both officers used pepper spray. “People were gasping and choking,” he said.

Marioly Gomez said she was standing in a hallway outside the meeting with several hundred other students who wanted to get into the meeting. “I got pepper-sprayed without warning,” she said.

Tuition has skyrocketed across the country, but the increase has been incredibly sharp in California over the last decade. After being virtually free for California residents for decades, budget cuts and changes to the University of California and Cal State systems have caused a rise in prices resembling the housing bubble:

Students and university faculty have vowed to continue protesting to preserve education funding for the UC and Cal State systems, each of which is facing threats of further budget cuts after losing $750 million in state funding during the 2011-2012 school year.