What I’ve Learned…

As a former state president and a longtime PTA member, I am aware that creating an environment where all parents can work together is challenging and conflict is too common. But if there is anything I have learned throughout my involvement in the association, members in our states need to be empowered to be advocates—for our children, families, school and communities and within PTA. That is, after all, the foundation on which our association is built.

Over the past week, National PTA has been made aware through phone calls, email correspondence and social media that PTA members in Georgia are concerned about the recent actions taken by the Georgia PTA Board of Directors.

Please be sure that we take the concerns of our members seriously. And we are always concerned when national-, state- or local-level conflicts distract from the important mission of representing our children to the best of our ability. We hate to see this happen within any PTA.

As it pertains to the situation in Georgia, and as we would do for any similar situation involving a PTA, we have consulted with our attorneys to be sure that we are fulfilling the authority that you as members have placed in your national association. They confirmed what we believed to be true, that the remedy that is being sought from National PTA is limited by our Bylaws and the Standards of Affiliation that we have with each state.

You may be aware that National PTA is separately incorporated from the states and each has its own 501(c)(3) status. Therefore, we are often not able to intervene and correct perceived or real inequities. However, our standards of affiliation do allow us one area where we can investigate state action—where there is clear evidence that the bylaws of the state association have not been adhered to. If someone from a state is able to provide evidence where an action is taken that is in direct conflict with specific bylaw(s) of that state PTA, we can investigate that in order for the state PTA to retain good standing with National PTA. These rules adopted by our Board of Directors and our membership are in accordance with legal counsel. We know you expect us to follow the rules our membership has put in place. To do otherwise would create even more chaos. These rules also exist for the state’s protection to prevent National PTA from capricious involvement in state affairs.

If, on the other hand, members of a state PTA believe that their association is violating the nonprofit laws of that state, the recourse for those members is not with National PTA but with the attorney general of that particular state. The attorney general is able to adjudicate whether state law has been violated. Such a determination is outside National PTA’s expertise and authority.

I am often asked what is the internal recourse for members when they are not happy with leadership’s actions in guiding a state PTA or of National PTA. There are two answers—change the bylaws through the convention or change the leadership through the election process. The power to create change always resides within me and each one of you as a member.

Though it may be tempting to withdraw from the state PTA when there is conflict, the states that work through the conflict together end up having the greatest capacity to serve their families. We hope that Georgia PTA—and any PTA facing a similar situation—can find equitable resolution to debilitating conflict that embraces the needs of the greatest numbers of members and leaders.

Laura Bay is president of National Parent Teacher Association (National PTA), a nonprofit association dedicated to promoting children’s health, well-being and educational success through family and community involvement

Recap: Senate Committee Holds Confirmation Hearing for Next Secretary of Education

On Tuesday, Jan. 17, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a confirmation hearing for Betsy DeVos, an education advocate and philanthropist to be the next U.S. Secretary of Education. Members from both sides of the aisle had the opportunity to ask Ms. DeVos questions about her positions and plans for the Department of Education (the Department) should she be nominated.

In a statement regarding the announcement of the confirmation hearing, Laura Bay, President of National PTA stated that “we respect the confirmation process and pending her confirmation, we stand ready to work with Ms. DeVos to ensure that the priorities of National PTA are included in the new administration’s education agenda.”

National PTA also joined with other leading organizations to express concerns regarding several previous education positions of Ms. DeVos in letters to the committee on Jan. 9 and 13, 2017.

During the hearing, many Democrats expressed concern about Ms. DeVos’ previous advocacy efforts on behalf of private school vouchers in addition to her lack of formal experience in the public education sector. Republicans, on the other hand, largely praised Ms. DeVos’ work and were encouraged by the potential opportunity of having a representative outside of the traditional public education sphere to bring different ideas to the Department.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chairman of the HELP Committee is expected to call for a vote on Ms. DeVos’ nomination on Tuesday, Jan. 31. The vote will likely fall along party lines with all Democrats voting against Ms. DeVos’ confirmation and all Republican Senators voting in favor. The vote will ironically coincide a week after National School Choice Week, which now in its seventh year of advocating for education options. National PTA has a longstanding history of opposing any private school choice system—vouchers, tax credits or deductions—that would divert public school resources.

In addition to the diversion of public resources to private schools, National PTA will continue to oppose private school choice systems because many of these programs do not have the same civil rights, protections and services for all students — particularly those with special needs. Furthermore, recent studies confirm that school vouchers do not help students achieve better in school, and in fact, they can lead to lower academic achievement.

Learn more about private school vouchers and follow @NationalPTA on Twitter for federal education updates and advocacy efforts.

Lindsay Kubatzky is the Government Affairs Coordinator for National PTA.

Do You Know of a Great PTA Advocate?

As we approach National PTA’s 120 year anniversary, it is important to stop and celebrate some of our members’ accomplishments. PTA has been a leader in working to improve the lives of all children—advocating for everything from hot school lunches to universal kindergarten.

As the Vice President of Advocacy for National PTA, I have the pleasure of traveling across the country and hearing from PTA members about their advocacy efforts, challenges and successes. At National PTA’s 2017 Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, we want to honor the incredible accomplishments of PTAs and their members.

The Dec.18 deadline is fast approaching for nominations for the 2017 Advocacy Awards, so if you know of an outstanding youth or individual PTA advocate, or know of a local unit or state level PTA that has done great advocacy work, nominate them to receive an award for their efforts from National PTA.

As in previous years, advocates may also nominate themselves in the youth and individual categories. Local and state category-winning PTAs will receive a monetary award. Nominations must be for efforts made in the last year.

The 2016 advocacy award winners were some of the most impressive advocates I’ve seen in my years as a PTA member. Massachusetts PTA, the state PTA winner, advocated on behalf of LGBTQ youth. Their efforts led to the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education unanimously passing a measure to update the school system’s policies related to LGBTQ youth, which hadn’t been updated since 1992.

The local PTA award winner, Rochester Community PTA Council, worked to educate all PTA members and families communitywide on the specifics of a $185 million bond issue to make much-needed renovations and upgrades to school facilities, technology and infrastructure. The improvements would ensure students in Rochester are provided a high-quality education and have a safe environment in which to thrive and learn. With the efforts and contributions of Rochester Community PTA Council, the bond issue passed with 73% support.

The individual award winners were equally impressive. The Youth Advocate of the Year, Brian Rodriguez, worked to promote civic engagement and increase community involvement among youth of all ages in the Miami area. Joy Grayson, the 2016 Shirley Igo Advocate of the Year, led South Carolina PTA to adopt an annual legislative platform; organized and moderated an annual state legislative conference; and revamped the state membership unit to become a state advocacy unit, which engaged community members in PTA who had no affiliation with a local unit.

These two individual advocates and two state PTAs are just some of many examples of the incredible work that PTA members and PTAs are doing across the country.

That’s why we’re excited to hear about other standout PTA advocates and celebrate their efforts to improve the lives of all children with a 2017 Advocacy Award. For more info on how to nominate a person, PTA or yourself, visit PTA.org/AdvocacyAwards or contact Lindsay Kubatzky. Deadline for submission is Dec. 18!


Shannon Sevier is the vice president of advocacy for National PTA.

All PTA Members Have an Obligation to Vote in Elections

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“The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society and we’ve got to use it.” –Congressman John Lewis

Every day, throughout this nation and overseas, PTA members are hard at work, striving to better the lives of all children. Collectively, our non-partisan voices have made a positive impact nationwide.

Just as we speak up for children through our advocacy work, we also need to exercise the privilege given to every U.S. citizen—the right to vote. Not only should we vote, we need to motivate the people in our schools and communities to vote.

As child advocates, we need to engage, inform and educate our membership on the issues facing our children and education on the ballot today. We need to provide them with the tools they need to vote intelligently at the ballot box.

Elections can have consequences to our mission and we need to make sure our elected officials will work to serve our children well.

So, how can PTA members get involved in non-partisan civic activities? There are a several ways for PTAs to engage their membership as Election Day approaches.

View the list of civic engagement activities your PTA can do as a nonprofit, non-partisan organization below and check out our Election Guide for more options.

  • Organize voter registration drives (check state and local laws)
  • Host candidate forums
  • Work with other organizations like the League of Women Voters to distribute information on state and local issues that may be on the ballot
  • Hold or participate in a Mock Student/Parent Election on Nov. 3
  • Encourage 18-year-old students to vote and help them register, and plan a trip to the polls together
  • Ask your membership to familiarize themselves with the candidates and issues
  • Help members identify the location of their polling place and its hours of operation
  • Inform parents and families of the proper identification and additional information they need to bring with them to the polls in order to vote in your state
  • Provide information to your school community about alternative ways to vote in your state (absentee, early voting, vote-by-mail)

Voter turnout in the United States has steadily declined. A Pew Research Center study shows that in 2012 the U.S. trailed most developed countries in voter turnout, coming in at number 27 with a 53.6% voter turnout. Often people do not vote because of time constraints, lack of information about the process or because they think that their vote will not matter.

Have your PTA members mentioned that they feel their vote does not make a difference? Remind them that elections have been won by just one vote—and in the not-too-distant past, 537 votes made the difference in a presidential election.

If we as PTA members do not speak up for all children, who will? Make a difference in the lives of children. VOTE on Nov. 8 and encourage all child advocates to cast their ballots.

 As you head to the polls, remember these wise words from the Dalai Lama, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”


 

Latha Krishnaiyer is the past president of Florida PTA and a current National PTA bylaws and policy committee member.

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

 

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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.

Student Data Privacy Legislation

shutterstock_163124264Many states have passed laws or introduced bills regarding this important issue for parents and kids.  Most of the laws and bills focus on third party vendor restrictions on using student data for commercial purposes, such as advertising to kids, selling data or creating non-education related profiles.  Typically, the burden of administering the privacy protections falls upon an education entity, such as a Department of Education or school district.  Challenges for education entities include limited resources or expertise for establishment of standards, administration and enforcement.

Oregon’s Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum submitted Senate Bill 187 and amendments modeled after a California law, which provides privacy protections for students, enforceable under Oregon’s unlawful business and trade practices laws.  The amendments place the compliance burden on “operators” of Internet websites, online services and/or online or mobile applications used for K-12 educational purposes.

Oregon PTA was one of the groups the Department of Justice reached out to regarding the proposal, and testified in support of the bill before the Senate Education Committee, and after the bill passed the Senate, the House Education Committee. Senate Bill 187A is scheduled for another hearing and possible work session on June 3.

Oregon PTA also participated as a member of a state level Student Data Privacy work group, and provided input regarding several bills sponsored by Rep. Lew Frederick.  We testified in support of the bills before the House Education Committee.

Learn more about Oregon’s bills on the Senate Bill 187A and House Committee on Education. You could also search your state legislature’s website to find legislative proposals related to student data privacy, or state and local educational entities’ website for opportunities to weigh in on this important issue.


Betty Reynolds, Ph.D. is the vice president for legislation at Oregon PTA.

New Resource for Parents on Student Data Privacy

privacy-header-cropTechnology and the Internet have created countless new opportunities for learning. Students can now read about virtually any subject from anywhere and can connect with people and places around the world. Teachers are harnessing the power of the technology to bring curriculum alive and modify instruction to meet the unique needs of every child.

With the advent of increasingly innovative ways to learn, National PTA believes that making learning via technology and the Internet safe for students should be a top priority. Toward the end of 2014, National PTA became involved in identifying best practices for safeguarding and managing student data and ensuring parents have appropriate notification and consent as to what and how children’s data is collected and used.

As part of its efforts, National PTA has collaborated with the Future of Privacy Forum and ConnectSafely to develop a free, digital guide to help parents understand the laws that protect student data as well as students’ and parents’ rights under the laws.

Among the information provided, the guide answers the following questions:

  • Who has access to personal information about my child?
  • What is the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and when does it apply to information from students?
  • When do I have the choice to “opt-out” of my child’s information being shared?
  • How do I gain access, make corrections or request deletions to my child’s data?

Schools have always held a wide range of data about children and families. Name, address, names of parents or guardians, date of birth, grades, attendance, disciplinary records, eligibility for lunch programs, special needs and the like are all necessary for basic administration and instruction. Teachers and school officials use this information for lots of reasons, including to assess how well students at a school are progressing, how effective teachers are at teaching, and how well a school performs compared to other schools. State departments of education also collect and aggregate data to help guide policy decisions and plan budgets.

Guaranteeing the effective use of students’ information while keeping this information protected remains paramount.

To download the guide and learn more about privacy rights for students and parents, visit ferpasherpa.org.


Heidi May Wilson is the media relations manager at National PTA.

Senate Education Committee Passes Every Child Achieves Act

Yesterday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee unanimously passed the Every Child Achieves Act, a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind (ESEA/NCLB). This is another step toward reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB. National PTA is pleased to see movement on this important piece of legislation. Comprehensive reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB is National PTA’s top legislative priority this Congress.

Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) praised his colleagues and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) for their hard work and bipartisanship during the three day markup of the bill. The bill will now go to the floor of the U.S. Senate where all Senators will be able to debate and have the opportunity to amendment the bill. We are hearing that the bill could be brought to the floor in mid-May or June.

National PTA and Colorado PTA worked with Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) to introduce an amendment that would create a program to authorize Statewide Family Engagement Centers as a replacement to Parent Information and Resource Centers, which were eliminated in the bill. Senator Bennet offered his amendment but then withdrew it. This was done for strategic reasons, and the Senator plans to offer it again on the Senate floor. National PTA seeks to strengthen the family engagement provisions in the bill and will be asking PTA advocates to reach out to their Senators to ensure that the Every Child Achieves Act has specific improvements that prioritize capacity building for the implementation of systemic and sustainable family engagement practices that increase student achievement.

During the markup, several amendments passed that National PTA supported, including the elementary and secondary school counseling program; the Javits gifted and talented program; the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which would provide academic enrichment opportunities during non-school hours; and an amendment that would provide resources to initiate, expand and improve physical education programs in schools. These amendments provide needed resources and supports to students and schools and are aligned with PTA’s 2015 Public Policy Agenda.

Another PTA-supported amendment that passed would enable states and school districts to conduct audits of their testing systems to reduce low-quality, misaligned and redundant tests.

National PTA is also pleased to see the passage of an education technology amendment that would foster innovative technology initiatives in classrooms and schools and provide professional development for educators as well as a grant program that would improve coordination, quality and access to early learning opportunities for children and families.

We are thankful that no public or private school portability or voucher amendments passed in Committee; however, both Senators Alexander and Scott (R-SC) vowed to introduce portability amendments on the Senate floor.

We will need PTA advocates to gear up for the action on the Senate floor to strengthen family engagement provisions and ensure that every child has the resources and support he/she needs to reach his/her full potential.

Stay tuned for more updates on the reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB through the One Voice Blog and by following @NationalPTA on Twitter.


Jacki Ball is the director of government affairs at National PTA. Follow her on Twitter at @balljacki.

Now Accepting 2015 Advocacy Awards Nominations

advocacyawardsNominations for the 2015 Advocacy Awards are now being accepted! If you know of an outstanding youth or individual PTA advocate, or know of a local unit or state level PTA that has done great advocacy work, please nominate them to receive an award for their efforts from National PTA. Winners will be announced in January, and will receive their awards at the 2015 Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.

Like in previous years, advocates may apply themselves in the youth and individual categories, and the winners in these categories will get the opportunity to act as advocacy ambassadors for PTA.

Nominations must be for efforts made in the last year and are due by 12 a.m. EDT on Dec. 19. Please visit the following links below to view and fill out nomination forms. You can also find these forms and more information about the 2015 Advocacy Awards at PTA.org/AdvocacyAwards.

Categories:

Shirley Igo Advocate of the Year Ambassador Award
The 2015 Shirley Igo Advocate of the Year Ambassador Award will be presented to an individual PTA member, who through their leadership and advocacy efforts, affected federal policy priorities within PTA’s annual Public Policy Agenda. Shirley was a model of public service and volunteerism throughout her life. She was an impassioned and compassionate leader, dedicated to moving PTA forward and committed to ensuring that others would follow.

Outstanding Youth Advocacy Ambassador Award
The 2015 Outstanding Youth Advocacy Ambassador Award will be presented to a young person—who—through his or her creativity, leadership, and dedication, has positively affected policy or change in his or her school or community in a way that aligns with PTA’s mission and goals.

Local/District/Regional PTA Outstanding Advocacy Award
The 2015 Local Outstanding Advocacy Award will be presented to a local, district, council or regional PTA that, through their dedication, leadership and efforts positively affected legislative and/or regulatory policy compatible with PTA’s mission and goals. These efforts must include an education/learning component for PTA members and the community-at-large. Working with multiple organizations or coalitions through grassroots collaboration is preferred.

State PTA Outstanding Advocacy Award
The 2015 State Outstanding Advocacy Award will be presented to a state PTA that, through their dedication, leadership and efforts positively affected legislative and/or regulatory policy compatible with PTA’s mission and goals. These efforts must be based on a statewide issue, involve working with multiple organizations or coalitions through grassroots collaboration, and contain a public awareness/advocacy training component for PTA members and the community at large.


Matthew L. Evans is an advocacy coordinator for National PTA.

Take Action! Every Child Deserves a #StrongStart!

IMG_4443%20211.jpgJoin @NationalPTA as we partner with leading education organizations to encourage the Obama Administration to fully support and fund early childhood education programs. As part of this campaign, we encourage our members to send us photographs of themselves holding the #StrongStart sign. Feel free to be creative with your photograph. Members can send photos to govaffairs@pta.org or upload to National PTA’s Flickr share album.

In the week leading up to the State of the Union address Jan. 28, we will tweet your photos to President Obama using the hashtag #StrongStart as part of a Twitter action campaign coordinated with advocates across the country. The initiative will call for President Obama to include early learning in his speech. The more photos we are able to tweet, the more likely it will draw the administration’s attention to fully support and fund early childhood education programs. Questions? Contact Governmental Affairs or Communications.