JROTC battle moves to Sacramento

29 March 2009

Assembly Education Committee Hearing
Wednesday, April 1, 2009, at 1:30 PM sharp!
California Capitol Building, Room 126
10th and L Street, Sacramento

The San Francisco Board of Education voted over two years ago to phase out the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps. JROTC is run by the Pentagon and their hand-picked military instructors. It is one of their primary military recruitment programs, aimed at 14 and 15 year old students. It is scheduled to end this June at all seven San Francisco high schools.

The Pentagon and their allies want to overturn the school board decision. At last Tuesday's school board meeting on March 24, Jill Wynns and Rachel Norton introduced a resolution to keep the military program. But the Wynns/Norton resolution does not have the votes to win, unless they get a boost from the Sacramento legislature.

That is why the fight has moved to Sacramento. Two bills have been introduced in an attempt to turn the tide in the Pentagon's favour. We need your help to defeat these bills, and to win the battle in San Francisco.

This is a fight we can win. The San Francisco school board voted to phase out JROTC because we do not want the military in our schools, a military that preys on working class youth, particularly from communities of colour. Nor should we support a program that won't hire openly LGBT instructors in line with the Pentagon's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and which discriminates against LGBT cadets if they try to join the military.

Assemblywoman Fiona Ma has introduced AB 223, which would require San Francisco to keep the JROTC program. Ma's bill is a clear violation of local control. The state should not be telling individual school districts what electives they must offer. JROTC costs San Francisco school district taxpayers one million dollars per year. Even many JROTC supporters oppose Ma's bill.

Ma has also joined with Mary Salas (D-San Diego) and Michael Duvall (R-Orange County) to sponsor AB 351. This bill would dangerously weaken physical education (PE) standards in California, counter to bipartisan efforts in recent years to tighten up PE standards and curriculum. The Ma/Salas/Duvall bill allows school districts to give PE credit to JROTC cadets, and to other classes that don't meet PE standards. The military has historically used PE credit as a recruitment tool for JROTC. When San Francisco withdrew PE credit for JROTC, enrolment dropped by over two-thirds. This bill is strongly opposed by educators around the state.

We all know that what is really motivating both these bills is the Pentagon's desire to fend off any attack on its favourite military recruitment program, aimed primarily at working class youth of colour, as young as 14 and 15 years old. Whatever the issues with JROTC, the Pentagon should not be driving educational policy in California.

Both of these bills are classified "urgent," which means that they need a two-thirds vote of the legislature to pass. It also means that they would take effect immediately upon being passed and signed by the Governor.

Fiona Ma's choice of allies is instructive. Salas is from San Diego, the most military of cities in California. Duvall is a Republican from Orange County. On the same day he signed onto this bill, Duvall introduced two other bills, one to "provide equal access to military recruiters at public school career fairs," and another to make it illegal to use "the names of fallen soldiers on political paraphernalia [think T-shirts] without the consent of the next of kin."

Last November, downtown and military money funded the "Yes on V" campaign in San Francisco, supposedly aimed at supporting JROTC, but really aimed at creating a "wedge issue" to defeat progressive candidates for the Board of Supervisors. They poured $200,000 into this campaign, gained a small victory with Prop V, but lost every Supervisor campaign. Despite being out-spent 15 to 1, the anti-JROTC and pro-people forces got nearly 150,000 votes.

We can and will win this fight. Here is what YOU need to do to help:

CONTACT EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THE ASSEMBLY EDUCATION COMMITTEE MEMBERS, TODAY. Tell them you oppose both bills, because they violate local control, because they dangerously weaken PE standards, and because the Pentagon should not be driving educational policy in California. You can find contact info for the committee at http://www.assembly.ca.gov/acs/newcomframeset.asp?committee=6.

COME TO THE HEARING ON WEDNESDAY IF YOU POSSIBLY CAN. We must counter the military's mobilization, and show the committee that these bills will not pass without a fight. If you need help with a ride to Sacramento from the Bay Area, contact us, and we will do everything we can to get you there.

We will win!