SACRAMENTO -- Chants, shouts and earnest proposals reverberated in the marble halls of the state Capitol on Monday as hundreds of protesters held a sit-in after a boisterous rally outside protesting state budget cuts to higher education.
The sit-in was staged after thousands of protesters swarmed the Capitol lawn, waving signs and chanting, "They say cut back, we say fight back."
"We were expecting to have a good future, but things are looking uncertain for a lot of families," said Alison Her, 19, a nursing student at California State University, Fresno. "I'm the oldest in my family and I want my siblings to be able to go to college, too."
Authorities arrested 68 people who refused to leave the Capitol rotunda after it closed at 6 p.m., the California Highway Patrol said. Four others were arrested earlier, three on charges of creating a disturbance and one because he was carrying a switchblade, authorities said.
Organizers had hoped that 10,000 protesters would demonstrate against rising tuition rates and demand that state lawmakers restore funding for higher education. But the actual turnout fell short.
Students from college campuses across the state talked about how state budget cuts were making it more difficult to get classes and complete their education.
"I had to wait, and wait and wait for my classes because of [enrollment] caps," Fresno City College student Carlos Bejarano said. He said he sat in for weeks on a math class, hoping enough students would drop out so that he could be added to the roster.
"After four weeks of waiting," he said, "I finally made it into my math class."
Without that class, Bejarano said, his transfer to Fresno State would have been delayed by a semester.
Bejarano was among more than a dozen Fresno City College students who chartered a bus to the Capitol rally.
After the rally, hundreds of students lined up to enter the Capitol and filled conference rooms and hallways inside. Some met with lawmakers to lobby for increased funding for higher education while others headed for the rotunda.
California Highway Patrol officers allowed several hundred students to settle on the black-and-white marble floor of the rotunda before all four hallway entrances to the area were blocked. Another 100 students sat down in a hallway, communicating with fellow protesters by call and response.
CHP spokesman Sean Kennedy did not say why officers had closed off access to the rotunda but noted that the protesters were interrupting the normal operations of the building, and might pose a fire hazard.
Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement that the protest highlights the need for California voters to approve a tax increase he has proposed for the November ballot.
"The students today are reflecting the frustrations of millions of Californians who have seen their public schools and universities eroded year after year," Brown said in a written statement. "That's why it's imperative that we get more tax revenue this November."
Brown's initiative would fund education and public safety programs by temporarily raising income taxes on people who make more than $250,000 a year and temporarily increasing the sales tax by half a cent.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said that while he supports the governor's plan over rival tax proposals, plenty of work needs to be done before the November election to consolidate support behind Brown's plan.
The University of California Student Association has endorsed a rival initiative that would tax millionaires and earmark the revenue for education. The California Federation of Teachers and state PTA support that initiative.
Staff writer Alex Tavlian and The Associated Press contributed to this report.