By Terence Chea, Associated Press Writer
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Students staged raucous rallies on nationwide college campuses Thursday in protests against deep education cuts that 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 woman who was allowed to go inside encouraged protesters to rush the building after she emerged, university spokesman Tom Luljak said.
No serious injuries were reported in the melee that followed.
"We have no problem with a protest," Luljak said. "We do have a serious problem when individuals decide to become violent."
Kas Schwerdtfeger, a national organizer for Milwaukee Students for a Democratic Society, said demonstrators were peaceful but persistent in approaching the hall.
"What we did was try to assert ourselves peacefully and nonviolently," Schwerdtfeger said. "Police started pushing, shoving, using mace on somewhere around 20 to 25 people."The school was among dozens of nationwide campuses 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 nationwide 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.
Experts said 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.