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Sandra Tsing Loh

Sandra Tsing Loh

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They think of themselves as street-theater activists who are willing to get in the face of the powers-that-be to bring equity to the state's school funding system.So between driving kids to soccer practice and helping with homework, these moms are hooking up online to organize their next rally or blogging about what bill in the Legislature might bring transparency to education finance.At the Capitol last week, a loosely formed coalition called the Burning Moms staged its second annual rally at the state Capitol to protest school funding cuts.

Instead of marching with placards and chanting slogans, the Burning Moms and their kids built sculptures out of trash and danced to rewritten rock tunes performed by a band called the Angry, Tired Teachers.Their goal is to make political activism fun and irreverent, while shining a spotlight on a public school system in crisis.The name Burning Moms is a riff on the annual nonconformist celebration Burning Man."We see ourselves as somewhat edgier than the PTA," said Burning Mom Deb McCurdy, who drove to Sacramento from Pasadena with her two kids for the rally.

"We're willing to take somewhat more of a risk to demonstrate our passion."Burning Moms co-founder, stand-up comic and author Sandra Tsing Loh, 47, of San Francisco, likens the grass-roots movement to a "string of terrorist cells."The Burning Moms (who also include a few dads) will blog online about an issue then decide to show up to protest or help a group organize.

Loh says they'll act like members of an underground railroad � one mom will pick up another mom at the airport then link with still more moms who will drive people to different events."It's informal and cell-like," said Loh, who also hosts a talk show on National Public Radio on various topics.

A few years ago, Loh developed a comedic monologue and later wrote a book called Mom on Fire about her efforts to find a decent public school for her kindergarten-age daughter in San Francisco.That effort morphed into the Burning Moms, as more mothers contacted her saying they were experiencing similar frustrations with public schools.

Now, the moms regularly chat on their Facebook page or on the site askamagnetyenta.wordpress .com about where to find the best magnet schools or to complain about state and national education policies.Moms from other states also have contacted the group.Burning Moms rallied at first lady Maria Shriver's conference on women in November to protest its lack of discussion of public education.The group also has sent members to various schools across the state to make presentations about proposed state funding cuts or budget fixes their group supports.California's beleaguered public education system is a crisis they believe threatens the future of their kids and therefore engenders their oft-referenced "burning" rage.

(Watch their video on say they applaud (and some still belong to) the well-meaning PTA and other booster groups whose members bake cookies and organize fundraisers to raise money for their kids' public schools.

But Burning Moms believe they need to start working to better all kids' schools, not just the ones that are fortunate enough to have active booster clubs.

It's an equity issue, they say."I feel we're kind of trying to take it to another level where we're not just working locally," said Cece Tsou of Los Angeles, who attended Tuesday's rally with her partner, Rebekah Fleischaker, and the couple's second-grade son."We, as a family, feel it's our obligation to participate before you bitch," Fleischaker said.Several Burning Moms said they brought their kids to the Capitol on Tuesday to show them that they, too, have a political voice and that the democratic process is open to kids as well as adults.

Many Burning Moms also took their kids to visit their lawmakers after the rally.Rebecca Constantine, 45, of Los Angeles, is a founding member of Burning Moms.

She said she was a former PTA president, but thought parents needed a "little feistier" alternative.

"I felt that the PTA is not that effective.

It's more old hat," said Constantine.

"I feel that people don't really listen to the PTA."She and other moms danced on the west steps of the Capitol to a Rolling Stones-inspired song they call "I Can't Get No Funding Satisfaction."Before that, group members and their kids discussed their concerns about public education during a special legislative hearing sponsored by state Sen.

Gloria Romero, D-East Los Angeles.Romero is sponsoring Senate Bill 604, which would add a preamble to the state's education code that seeks to outline the education code's "guiding principles." She hopes to launch a statewide effort to get input from students, parents and educators about the mission of public education prior to the crafting of the preamble."Most of our public schools, they're not public schools anymore," said Joann Palmer of West Hollywood.

"Booster clubs are expected to raise money to pay for school supplies, field trips and other things."
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