ALICANTE city witnessed a multitudinous demonstration as 50,000 pupils, teachers and parents protested against education spending cuts.
Maintenance costs for schools and secondary schools have not been paid since April last year and the Valencian Community’s three provinces are hard-hit by the regional government’s lack of cash.
The regional government’s debt to the approximately 400 schools affected is around €33 million, according to Spanish daily El Pais.
Teachers at some schools are buying chalk for blackboards and pupils have been told to bring their own paper for exams. At the 6pm start students and parents brandished symbolic scissors, teachers carried placards with the names of their schools and small children waved black balloons.
“I’m not an expense, I’m an investment,” was a chant from older pupils, while “My institute doesn’t have a penny!” was heard from others.
As families from the Marina Alta down to the Vega Baja converged on Alicante, the city centre came to a standstill.
It was the biggest rally since the protests against the Iraq war in 2003 and the 11-M Madrid bombings in 2004, police said later. A tsunami of people – 40,000 according to the police and 50,000 according to organisers who admitted surprised at the turnout – marched from the Jorge Juan institute to the Plaza de los Luceros.
The starting point was significant, as this was where pupils and teachers shivered last week after Iberdrola cut off the power supply because the regional government had not paid the bill.
The anxiety is not only due to the lack of funding from 2011-2012. The longer term forecast is increasingly bleak for schools. There are plans to reduce teachers’ salaries and to erode pay and conditions for teaching assistants and support staff too.
Support staff will no longer receive sickness pay or be paid during the summer holiday. Instead they will be forced to apply for unemployment benefit.
Meanwhile, other public sector workers are likely to be targeted for reductions too, meaning that health and social services can expect to be put under increasing pressure.
A union representative pointed out, “these protests are about schools but the cuts will hit all public services.” “It is the vulnerable who will lose out as a result of the mistakes of the politicians.”
A sentiment and a situation not exclusive to Spain. Inevitably there were also bitter references to corrupt politicians and slogans that demanded “Less corruption, more education.”
Shortly before the march, the regional government’s Education department pledged to settle outstanding bills “within days” both for state and state-aided schools.
At the time of going to press, the payments had not been made. Meanwhile, by the time the march had finished in Calle Dr Gadea two hours later, thousands were still waiting to join it at the Jorge Juan school.
“We came for our children,” said one mother. “We pay our taxes and want a decent education system for them.”
By Linda Hall and Suzanna O’Connell