Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline


This week, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered a speech on the need to invest in education instead of prisons to ensure that all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential. National PTA has a long history of advocating for policies to prevent children and youth from entering the juvenile justice system and to protect those currently in the system. If we provide the right investment and resources for our nation’s children, their families and schools—rather than jails—we will see better outcomes for our communities, society and the nation’s economy overall. We must stem this tide of the school-to-prison pipeline by making sure adults and schools are using disciplinary policies and practices that keep students in schools and out of the justice system. We must promote programs that encourage the use of evidence-based disciplinary practices, such as positive behavioral interventions, over zero-tolerance policies and out-of-school suspension practices. Further, we must promote effective family-focused, community-based solutions for our most troubled youth. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it makes plain economic sense. Let’s make a promise to trade the unsound prison investment for better schools and better communities for our children.

Take our teachers, for example. As research shows, access to high-quality teachers and educational opportunities leads to greater lifetime earnings and better health outcomes. According to the Department of Education, states and localities spend a total of $72 billion annually on correctional facilities while only $27 billion on teachers that work in high-poverty schools. Imagine the impact if we chose a different path and instead invested in a child’s future by ensuring they had a high-quality teacher.

Since 2010, cuts to education funding have approached an embarrassing and shameful $4 billion. There appears to be a severe misalignment of funding priorities when K-12 enrollment at public schools increases annually, but federal discretionary funding for education programs continues to decrease. Earlier this week was the close of fiscal year 2015 and the federal government barely beat the deadline to fund the government for 2016. Unfortunately, we find that the current congressional debate is not on how much we should invest in education, but how much to cut education.

We urgently call on our policy leaders to strategically invest to break the school-to-prison pipeline and ensure that each and every child reaches their potential. Secretary Duncan’s call for a shift in funding from prisons to our children’s education is exactly the realignment that our education system needs to provide students with the opportunity to succeed in school and beyond.

Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA

Getting it Right

shutterstock_11033293All states have renewed their efforts to give every child a quality education by evaluating, and in many cases, overhauling their state education standards. Many states have adopted College and Career Readiness Standards, some have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), some have opted for a hybrid of the CCSS and others have created their own entirely. Whichever standards your state uses, the goal is the same: to ensure that every child graduates high school ready for college or career. National PTA has resources for all states to help parents learn more about the standards.

New standards cannot stand alone. Each state must implement a robust action plan to ensure that the standards can be successful. National PTA, in partnership with the Learning First Alliance, has outlined five key areas where states—in partnership with schools, teachers and parents—should focus efforts in order to make their new standards successful.

  • Alignment of standards, curriculum and assessments—Once states and local communities institute standards that establish the knowledge and skills they believe students must learn, they must put in place curriculum and instructional programs that provide students with opportunities to learn the agreed-upon knowledge and skills.
  • Adequate professional development for teachers and principals—Teachers, principals and schools must have adequate time to understand and implement the standards. Teachers must have access to high-quality training and resources that enable them to successfully develop plans to teach the standards and adequate time with their peers to collaborate, brainstorm and learn best practices.
  • Sufficient resources and support for each child to meet high standards—When done right, standards set the goals and proper assessments (formative and summative) identify gaps in achievement. During the transition to College and Career Ready Standards, assessments play a vital role in helping schools and parents pay particular attention so students do not fall behind. States should plan to provide supports to assist teachers and students, especially those who struggle more to close the gap.
  • Ongoing communication about the importance of standards and accountability—This is the best area for PTA to lead in your state. PTA can facilitate communication between state leaders, district leaders, school personnel, teachers and parents. National PTA has created a wealth of resources to help parents understand the new standards and assessments. The Learning First Alliance has launched a new program that highlights best practices across the country that any leader can use. Utilize allies in your state including education coalitions and groups, the business community, teachers unions, etc. to provide a strong message of support for higher standards and the commitment needed to effectively implement, assess and hold students and teachers accountable for achievement.
  • Balanced and comprehensive accountability systems—New standards require new tests, and new tests require time to adjust accountability. States should encourage state leaders to delay high stakes accountability measures for students, teachers, districts and schools until implementation is successful and the new tests have been evaluated.

PTAs are encouraged to review the 5 Pillars of Successful Implementation and work with education partners at the district, region and state to Get it Right!

Lee Ann Kendrick is the Regional Advocacy Specialist for National PTA.

Keeping Families Together

This blog post was featured in the Huffington Post. Read the original post here.

shutterstock_140108563One of National PTA’s founding principles is to advocate for children and families who are most vulnerable. In the heated debate about immigration, we raise our voice for the estimated 4 million K-12 students in the United States who have at least one parent with the potential of being deported. (Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends)

If these parents and family members are suddenly uprooted from their children’s lives and deported, it will have a significant negative impact on their children’s education and opportunities. Their children will face not only the emotional loss of their primary support, but also the benefits of having families engaged in their education and other aspects of their lives, which result in a greater likelihood of graduating from high school, attending college and being employed.

It is not hard to put ourselves into the shoes of these families and to imagine the horrors that are being talked about so cavalierly. I know if I were to be snatched away by authorities, the trajectory of my 10 and 12 year-old would be forever changed. And if they lived under that threat every day, the emotional stress would adversely impact every aspect of their lives, including their potential for academic success. Yet, this is a reality for millions of children every day.

The threat to families is not just in the evolving rhetoric. In 2013, the federal government deported more than 72,000 mothers and fathers of children who are U.S. citizens, resulting in thousands of shattered families.

Actress Diane Guerrero of “Orange Is the New Black” was one such child and she wrote about how that deportation impacted her life. At 14, she came home from school to find that both of her parents had been deported. With few options, she was fortunate enough to be taken in by friends. However, her parents missed many of her academic and personal accomplishments during her childhood and were not there to provide valuable support. While Guerrero has succeeded despite this distressing experience, many children are less fortunate.

Deportation of parents can lead to greater expense as some children may need to enter the under-resourced foster care system. The trauma may cause some children to understandably lash out with negative behavior in school or possibly end up in the juvenile justice system without the support of their parents. These types of cruel deportations led one New Mexico judge to state, “For 10 years now, I’ve been presiding over a process that destroys families every day and several times each day.”

If students are more likely to do better in school and life when they have involved families, and the documented benefits of our nation’s immigrants far exceed the costs of their presence and participation, then policymakers should provide solutions that benefit our nation’s diverse and talented youth and their families, not harm them.

At National PTA, our motto is “Every Child, One Voice.” When you know our families as I do, you know that many of their children are on their way to be doctors, teachers, social workers, entrepreneurs and other valued members of our society. We raise our voice for the children of immigrants–let’s give them the best opportunity to succeed by keeping their families together and providing them with the best education possible. Their future and our nation’s future depend on it.


Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA and a proud father of two public school students.

We at National PTA believe that all children residing in the United States, regardless of their citizenship status, have the right of access to a quality public education, adequate food and shelter and basic health care services. Our association strongly considers that a critical part of a quality public education is to provide the same opportunities to all families to be involved in their child’s education, despite their differences.

New Poll Shows Little Appetite for Vouchers but a Craving for Resources


(Photo Credit:

This week, PDK and Gallup released the results from the 2015 Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. In the season of presidential campaigning when it feels like Americans are constantly pitted against each other, it is a welcome respite to find widespread agreement on some issues related to public education.

The poll conducted 3,499 interviews via telephone and internet and found that the majority of public school parents are opposed to using public funds to finance private education. In fact, the national opinion on school vouchers is in line with National PTA’s longstanding position of opposing vouchers that divert critical public funds to private or sectarian schools. National PTA has repeatedly opposed vouchers—or public school portability—in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which some policymakers continue to advocate for despite a majority of Americans disfavoring them. National PTA also released a statement in response to the poll.

Perhaps the most unsurprising finding from the poll was nearly half of those questioned stated that a lack of financial support was the biggest problem facing American schools. Funding for public education has consistently been at the top of the list of issues impacting schools for the past 10 years. The answers could be in response to the continued cuts to education at the federal, state and local levels, which were exacerbated during the Great Recession.

National PTA—along with dozens of other organizations—routinely advocates to congress for increased investment for education programs. Despite the massive funding cuts, when respondents were asked about schools in their own areas, they were much more likely to have a favorable opinion of their schools compared to schools nationally. This is analogous to voters disapproving of the job congress is doing, but continue to approve of their own members of congress.

The poll also revealed that:

  • 67% of public school parents believe there is too much emphasis on standardized tests in schools in the United States.
  • 65% of public school parents overall said they wouldn’t excuse their own child from exams.
  • African-American and Hispanic parents being less likely to say they would excuse their child from standardized test compared to their white peers.

National PTA’s position on assessing students is supported by the poll results which found that “when asked to select from four approaches that would provide the most accurate picture of a public school student’s academic progress, standardized testing was again at the bottom of the list when compared with three other indicators of progress.” Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Dr. Daniel Koretz, recently told the Christian Science Monitor, “True accountability would include many unstandardized measures of student and teacher performance, everything from portfolios to observations, and that a limited amount of standardized testing then could be part of the oversight system to make sure teachers were applying appropriate standards.”

National PTA believes valid assessment does not consist of a single test score, and that at no time should a single test be considered the sole determinant of a student’s academic or vocational future. Rather, policy alternatives to social promotion and grade retention must be established.

Stay in the loop! Sign-up to get our PTA Takes Action e-newsletter and visit our Takes Action Network for the latest advocacy news and legislative updates.

Lindsay Kubatzky is the government affairs coordinator at National PTA.

Ending the Use of Restraint and Seclusion

Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a federal lawsuit against a sheriff’s department in Kentucky after an eight-year-old boy and nine-year-old girl with ADHD and additional disabilities were handcuffed by the deputy sheriff for conduct related to their disabilities. The deputy sheriff used the handcuffs as a restraint on the students by positioning the handcuffs on the student’s biceps locking their arms behind their back, which the ACLU argues is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

At the 2015 annual convention, National PTA recently approved a resolution against the use of restraint and seclusion on students that:

  • Limits the use of restraint and seclusion on students only to be used as a last resort in emergency[i] situations
  • Seeks to educate the school community and parents about the risks of excessive and/or inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion by untrained school personnel.

National PTA also promotes the use of positive or non-aversive interventions for school discipline.

There is overwhelming evidence that the use of restraint and seclusion on children is dangerous, life-threatening and not an effective technique for discipline. This also continues to be used across many states and school districts.

For instance, according to the U.S. Department of Education, students with disabilities represent 12% of public school students, but are 75% of all students subject to physical restraint and 58% of students subject to seclusion. The 2011-12 Civil Rights Data Collection found the use of restraint and seclusion to be significant with over 110,000 student cases documented, absent of data entries from multiple states and districts that do not report on restraint and seclusion.

In 2009, the United States Congress introduced legislation to regulate the use of restraint and seclusion in schools across the nation, but no federal legislation has become statute. National PTA has supported the Keeping All Students Safe Act in the last few Congresses and will continue to support legislation that reduces the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.

The lack of federal action has led many states to create their own restraint and seclusion statutes and guidelines that vary widely. The Autism National Committee captured the legal landscape of restraint and seclusion laws nationwide in a recent report that found that only 25 states have laws providing meaningful protections against restraint and seclusion for all children and 35 states provide protections for children with disabilities.

Kentucky was one of the states that fell under both categories of meaningful protections, but there are many caveats and exceptions that limit children’s protections under state laws—such as room descriptions, types of restraints and seclusion, and what constitutes emergency and life-threatening situations compared to everyday actions. Many states do not even require parental notification when restraints or seclusion has been used on a child, limiting the parent’s ability to take action and correct the problem so that their child can learn in a safe environment.

National PTA will continue to support evidence-based alternatives to seclusion and restraint— such as positive behavioral interventions—that work to improve a child’s actions in school. We encourage parents and families to be aware of their school’s discipline policies and the restraint and seclusion laws of their state in order to help create a safe a supportive school environment for all children.

Stay in the loop! Sign-up to get our PTA Takes Action e-newsletter and visit our Takes Action Network for the latest advocacy news and legislative updates.

[i] Emergency is defined as an unanticipated and already occurring event that is placing the individual or others in imminent danger of physical harm.

Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.

National PTA Lauds Senate Judiciary Committee Passage of Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Nation’s Juvenile Justice System

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 2015 (JJDPA), which has protected the care and treatment of children and youth in the justice system for over 40 years.

The bill, S. 1169—which Congress last reauthorized in 2002—would close loopholes in the law to prevent youth from entering the system for minor offenses, and make provisions to ensure the continuation of children’s education while detained and a smooth transition back into the classroom.

National PTA believes that this bipartisan reauthorization is a positive step towards a safer and more supportive juvenile justice system that helps every child reach his or her potential. Earlier this month, we cosigned a letter in support of the bill with other national and state organizations.

The bill will move to the Senate floor for further consideration. In June, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced a JJDPA reauthorization bill—H.R. 2728—in the House.

According to a recent report by the National Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Coalition (NJJDPC), despite key reforms to reduce youth incarceration and detention, more than 600,000 children and youth are arrested each year in the U.S. A majority of these arrests could be more effectively treated in community-based settings.

The report also found that:

  • Over 60,000 of these young people are being held in detention centers awaiting trial—thousands for minor offenses such as skipping school.
  • About 250,000 are prosecuted in the adult criminal justice system annually.
  • Of nearly 55,000 children in state prisons, most are incarcerated for non-violent crimes.
  • On any given night, more than 6,000 youth are held in adult jails and prisons.

Our organization has advocated for a fair, safe and rehabilitative juvenile justice system for over 100 years, dating back to the association’s first resolution in 1899, addressing how children are handled in the judicial system.

We continuously support the prohibition of incarcerating youth in adult facilities; addressing racial, ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities in the juvenile justice system; and finding alternatives to detaining nonviolent youth.

Other provisions in the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2015 include:

  • Prohibiting children who commit status offenses—conduct that would not be a crime if committed by an adult such as breaking curfew, skipping school or running away—from being kept at a correctional facility.
  • Encouraging alternative options for status offenders.
  • Making sure detained youth are kept separate from adults.
  • Providing clear directions for states to develop plans to reduce racial and ethnic disparities among youth who come in contact with the juvenile system. States and state education agencies would also need to develop plans and collaborate with juvenile detention facilities to continue a child’s education while detained and allow for a smooth transition back to the classroom.

Keep checking our blog for updates on the JJDPA reauthorization process and other legislation to better the lives of every child in education, health and safety.

Joshua Westfall is the government affairs manager at National PTA.

The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 Senate Passage

The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (ECAA) was passed by the Senate on a vote of 81-17. National PTA applauds the leadership of Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) for crafting the historic and bipartisan legislation. We believe that this bill is a solid foundation for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—No Child Left Behind (ESEA-NCLB). The Senate bill will soon go to a Conference Committee with the House to work out the differences between its reauthorization bill, the Student Success Act (H.R. 5).

Throughout the consideration of the reauthorization of ESEA-NCLB, National PTA and PTA members across the nation strongly advocated for the inclusion of several provisions to improve family engagement in the bill. Thousands of PTA members and advocates called, emailed and tweeted at Senators voicing their support for amendments to improve family engagement in the bill. Because of this impressive grassroots advocacy by PTA members, the Senate adopted an amendment by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Jack Reed (D-RI) that will provide school districts and schools with the capacity to effectively engage families in their children’s education. The inclusion of this program in the Senate bill is a huge victory for children and families. The House bill (H.R. 5) also includes this program.

Furthermore, in large part to the efforts of local PTA members, the bill contains several other laudable family engagement provisions such as the inclusion of parents in the development of school district plans to support student achievement and promote family engagement strategies in early childhood learning programs. Additionally, through the leadership of Chris Coons (D-DE), Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Jack Reed (D-RI), language was also included to encourage Title I school districts to invest additional resources in family engagement. In total, 178 amendments were introduced, with 65 accepted and 13 rejected. Several accepted amendments included the creation of a student data privacy commission to inform policymakers on updates to current laws governing this issue, addressing student access to digital learning resources at home, and the establishment of a full-service community schools grant program. Other amendments that were adopted include a proposal from Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) allowing certain funds to be spent on mental health awareness programs and one by Sen. Bennet that would require states to limit the total time students spend on tests.

National PTA has long advocated against any proposal that would permit federal dollars to follow a student to another public school or for private school vouchers. The association was pleased that several amendments that attempted to do so were defeated.

Now that both houses of Congress have passed bills to reauthorize the ESEA-NCLB, they must come together to work out the differences between the two bills in conference committees. Once there is agreement, the bill will go back to each chamber of Congress for another vote. The final step is to send the bill to President Obama for his approval. We are excited that this long overdue reauthorization is closer to a reality. National PTA will continue to work to improve educational opportunities and experiences of all children across the United States.

Lindsay Kubatzky is the government affairs coordinator at National PTA.

Special Video Message from President Bay: Thank You PTA Advocates!

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed an amendment that strengthens family engagement provisions in the Every Child Achieves Act, a bill that would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind. The passage of the amendment is a testament to the power of our collective voice to make a difference for all students and schools.

I want to take a few moments to thank you for your advocacy efforts because this could not have happened without you being a voice and your hard work and dedication to the mission of PTA.

Thank you again to all of our members and advocates and keep up your tremendous advocacy on behalf of our nation’s children and families!

Laura’s Corner: Our Children Are Counting on Us

Copyright 2014 Lifetouch National School Studios, IncWelcome to my new corner of the blog!

I am honored to serve as the 54th president of National PTA and am excited about this opportunity to strengthen our mission to make every child’s potential a reality.

I look forward to connecting and working with you—our members—to achieve this goal.

PTA brings together families, educators, business and community leaders to solve the toughest problems and is a powerful voice for all children from schools and local communities to state legislatures and the halls of Congress.

We understand and believe that opportunity starts and ends with access to a great education, and as president, I want to diversify the association’s education platform and strengthen programs that support the whole child.

We can do this together by:

  • Advocating to make sure that all children have a safe place to live, learn and thrive
  • Working to enhance PTA’s STEM and early learning efforts and college and career programs
  • Diving deeper into health issues to meet every child’s physical, social and emotional needs
  • Ensuring that all families are engaged in education and PTA and are at the table to be a voice for their and all children

In Laura’s Corner, I will share my experiences as I visit communities across the country and meet the people who are making a difference every day for our nation’s children and schools.

You can also follow me on Twitter @PTALauraBay and share your questions, concerns, suggestions and activities. I want to know the positive strides you are making in your schools and communities and the challenges you face in advocating for every child.

Thank you for your support and your commitment to PTA! And thank you for all that you do for our children!

Laura Bay is National PTA President.

The Every Child Achieves Act Makes it Through the First Week of Floor Debates

Last week, the U.S. Senate began floor debate on the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177)—a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act-No Child Left Behind (ESEA-NCLB). The primary law governing K-12 education at the federal level, ESEA-NCLB is eight years overdue for reauthorization. National PTA has consistently advocated for a bipartisan and comprehensive reauthorization of ESEA-NCLB, and it is a key public policy priority for our association. However, the bipartisan bill is far from perfect and National PTA has been working with U.S. Senate offices for several months to improve the bill for children and their families.

Most notably, National PTA has been working on two amendments that would improve family engagement programs and resources in states and school districts. Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced an amendment on July 8 that would authorize Statewide Family Engagement Centers. These centers would give states and school districts the capacity to support effective implementation and enhancement of systemic and effective family engagement policies, programs, and activities that lead to improvements in student development and academic achievement. Additionally, an amendment offered by Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) would allow local education agencies to use more than 1 percent of their district-level Title I funding for family engagement programs. Debate has yet to occur on either of these amendments, but National PTA is following the floor action closely.

Earlier in the week, we were pleased to see an amendment by Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) which National PTA advocated for, was included in the bill to ensure family engagement strategies are allowable activities in the Early Learning Alignments and Improvement grant program. By weeks end, there were more than 130 amendments filed with 19 passed, three rejected and a few amendments tabled for further negotiations. Similar to the House, there were a few proposals introduced that could allow for the portability of Title I funds to public and private schools, which were amongst the amendments that were rejected. National PTA was pleased to see that school voucher programs and Title I portability were not accepted, so far, in the Every Child Achieves Act. We will continue to advocate against methods that take federal funding away from the students that need it the most.

National PTA sent a letter to the Senate outlining our priorities for reauthorizing ESEA-NCLB before the floor debate began and will continue to communicate National PTA priorities to all Senators as debate continues.

There were a number of agreed upon amendments, ranging from ensuring access to STEM subjects for underrepresented students to a crackdown on sexual assaults in schools to authorized studies on tribal schools and student services, amongst others. National PTA was pleased to see the adoption of an amendment that would allow school staff additional means to “certify” that students are homeless and an amendment that encourages states and school districts to integrate school library programs into their plans for improving student academic achievement.

The Every Child Achieves Act will resume consideration on the U.S. Senate floor at 5:30 p.m. EDT today and could be voted on for final passage as early as Thursday, July 16. National PTA continues to work with members of the Senate to provide families the necessary resources to effectively be involved in their children’s education.

Make sure to stay connected with our legislative actions by checking our PTA Takes Action webpage to send letters to your elected officials in support of our federal legislative priorities as well as reading the One Voice blog and following National PTA on social media platforms.

Lindsay Kubatzky is the government affairs coordinator at National PTA.