Federal Funding for Education Programs At Risk in Fiscal Year 2018

Education advocates work hard to increase funding for federal education programs to ensure all children receive a quality education. During tough political climates and hard economic times, these education advocates have always been able to at least maintain the current level of funding for education programs at 2% of the federal budget.

However, much of our progress to increase investments in education—or at a minimum maintain current levels of funding for education—have been put at-risk due to the release of President Trump’s “skinny budget” or “blueprint” for funding priorities in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018. President Trump’s proposal would cut funding for public education programs by $9.2 billion.

From the information that is available in the skinny budget, National PTA has concerns about the following proposals:

  • An overall $9.2 billion cut to program under the U.S. Department of Education (13% cut)
  • New $250 million investment to expand private school choice options
  • Eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers—also known as afterschool programs
  • Eliminate Title II state grants to support effective instruction for teachers, principals and other school leaders
  • Eliminate or reduce over 20 programs at the U.S. Department of Education (the full list of programs is not available)

National PTA hopes President Trump’s full budget request (to be released in May) will propose funding for Statewide Family Engagement Centers, Title I, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act state grants, Parent Training and Information Centers and Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants.

It’s important to note that the President’s budget request is simply that—a “request” outlining the President’s funding priorities. It is Congress that determines how much funding each federal agency and program will receive each year.

Members of Congress take the President’s budget request into consideration when they are making funding decisions, but constituent requests for certain programs to receive funding almost always take precedent in appropriations bills.

Here are two steps for PTA advocates to take to ensure that Congress adequately invests in public education programs:

  1. Take Action and send a letter to your members of Congress requesting for them to invest in public education and Statewide Family Engagement Centers.
  1. Sign up for National PTA’s Takes Action Newsletter and get the latest information on PTA’s advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill and ways you can get involved.

While National PTA is disappointed that the budget proposal cuts vital funding for public education overall, the association is pleased to see the president maintain funding of $13 billion for special education grants through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

President Trump’s blue print proposes to designate an additional $1 billion for Title I—which aids schools with high percentages of children from low-income families. However, it is still unclear as to how the proposed increase in Title I funding would be used as the skinny budget mentions that the increase in Title I funding would be used to encourage Title I portability, which National PTA would not support.

As PTA advocates, we encourage you and all parents and families to call, meet and email your member of Congress and request them to support robust investments in public education and Statewide Family Engagement Centers and oppose funding for any private school choice or voucher system that would divert funding from public schools.

Joshua Westfall is the Government Affairs Manager at National PTA.

4 Ways to Engage in Your Child’s Education

This piece was originally featured in Mediaplanet.

Over 40 years of research shows that regardless of a family’s income or socioeconomic background, students whose families are engaged attend school more regularly earn better grades, enroll in higher-level programs and have higher graduation rates.

Here are four ways you can help your child reach their full potential:

1. Talk about school matters at home

Encourage your child to talk about their day and express any concerns. It will help you understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what activities they like and don’t like. Two-way communication is essential to developing an active and positive relationship and an open, ongoing dialogue is critical to keep your child safe, happy and learning.

2. Be a partner in your child’s learning

Every child’s education experience is unique, and ensuring it remains a positive one is a shared responsibility between families and educators. It is important to develop a relationship with your child’s teacher, keep the lines of communication open and work together to support your child.

3. Advocate for your child  

You are your child’s best advocate. It is important to speak up for your own child — and every child in your school community — to ensure they are treated fairly and have access to opportunities that will enable them to reach their full potential. Use your voice to advocate with local school boards and state and federal government to ensure your child’s school has the resources to provide a world-class education to every student.

4. Join up with your PTA

Get involved with your local parent teacher association. Families are busier than ever and as an on-the-go parent, you will find support from others in PTA who share your questions, concerns, hopes and dreams for their children. You will also be part of a dedicated network of families, educators, businesses and community leaders who are working to ensure all children — including yours — receive a high-quality education.

The work your family does at home to support and reinforce what your kids are doing in school will have a significant academic impact. Don’t strive for perfection — remember that involvement looks different for every family — and any level of involvement in your child’s education will help ensure they have every opportunity for success.

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.

Kilgour Elementary: Healthy Food Zone

“Healthy Hands.” Students creating permanent art installations for the cafeteria makeover

Change can be challenging to initiate, especially when you are just one elementary school in a public-school district with over 60 schools. It’s easy to feel too small.

But thanks to our Healthy School Meals grant, Kilgour Elementary School in Cincinnati, Ohio was given an opportunity to stand out and help make change happen. Not only have we been able to take steps to improve the perception of our school meals, we have also been able to create partnerships and momentum to improve our school’s wellness culture.

To help create a positive, healthy-lifestyle atmosphere, this year our school’s cafeteria will host six student-created permanent art installations, as well as a large scale “Farm to School” mural, illustrated by two talented collaborators—a Kilgour parent and school art teacher.

Ever wonder if Kindergartners know how to make a salad? Ours do! Thanks to our “Free Salad Bar Friday’s” every student and staff member can visit the school’s salad bar on Friday and create their very own green masterpiece. Every week over 100 students participate in the free salad bar—students who otherwise would not have the opportunity to experience school meals.

Kindergarten students enjoying “Free Salad Bar Friday’s.”

Growing a positive partnership with our school district’s Food Service Administrative team has given us many opportunities, like bringing in extra salad dressing for students and trying new food items like sweet potato sticks before other schools. Our partnership also has led us to the donation of a Tower Garden growing system to our school, which gives students firsthand experience in growing their own food and creating meals and snacks from the harvest.

Our partnerships have also blossomed in Kilgour Strong Cooking Classes. Local top chefs, in partnership with local distributors, have volunteered their time to help promote school meals. Students in grades 4-6 will be given an opportunity to participate in four free cooking classes, during which they will create a meal served in our school’s cafeteria. These students will be empowered to recreate these meals at home, plus learn why the ingredients are smart choices.

Being one school out of 25 schools awarded the National PTA School Meals Grant reminds us that no matter how small we may feel, we are powerful, we can create change and that we certainly can stand out.

 

Lauren Boehm is a proud mom of a second and third grader, and co-chair of Kilgour Elementary School’s Wellness Committee.

Empowering Students to Make Healthy Meal Choices in School

March is National Nutrition Month and one of my jobs as a parent is to make sure my children are eating healthy, nutritious foods. However, I have to hope that they are making those same healthy choices in my absence while they are at school. The school week leaves a lot of time for friends to offer unhealthy snacks that they’ve brought from home and for one too many cupcakes during birthday celebrations in class.

So, how do we teach our children to choose healthy food alternatives?

As a PTA president for the last four years, I’ve spent a lot of time in our school and began to see the positive impact being made on healthy initiatives for students. I knew that I wanted to be more involved in this effort, so when our PTA had the opportunity to apply for a Healthy Meals Grant we jumped at the chance…and were selected!

Our goal for the year is to increase breakfast and lunch participation by 10%, which sounds great on paper but where do you start? The answer: Empowerment. We start by partnering with the school and meal services provider to help show children what it means to eat healthy by putting the right choices in their hands.

Make them aware
I know that I’ve had those mornings of waking up late and rushing around, hurrying my children to the bus stop with a Pop-Tart.  We asked ourselves: Do students and parents even know that breakfast is available at school? Colorful signs that depicted healthy options were put up at the parent drop off loop to inform families about school breakfast.

Make it fun
During our Fall Festival Celebration we had an apple tasting contest.  It was our chance to highlight the health benefits of apples while having a fun learning experience. Students were given samples of three types of apples: Gala, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. Student were then asked to choose which apple they liked best by placing representative felt apple on the board.  The apple tasting continued in the lunchroom for the younger grades with Golden Delicious edging out the others by a slim margin!

Give them the tools
We are fortunate to have a schoolyard garden.  Classes are held outside in warmer weather and students of all grade levels are an integral part of planting, harvesting and eventually eating what grows in the garden.  In September, our PTA planted various types of lettuce with the plan to have a “Top Chef Jr.” type of salad making competition using other fruits & vegetables of the season.  The winning salad would be featured on the school menu for that month.  We even used the lettuce for salads at our December ACE & PTA Family Night “Meatballs & Math.”

Empower them
What better way to highlight our school’s breakfast and lunch options than to have students share updates with each other. Each morning the Mullica Morning Howl – student led video announcements – were shown to the entire student body at Mullica Township School. During this time, students were able to speak about what breakfast and lunch options were available each day.

Jessica Carroll is a parent of two boys and PTA president of Mullica Township School in Elwood, New Jersey. 

Unite for a Better Internet: Have the Smart Talk

Navigating life online

(Sponsored Post) My boys are nine and eleven-years-old. This means that we’ve had “the talk” — yes, that one about the “birds and the bees.” But in our fast-moving, digital world, where children are engaging more and more on social media, playing online games and reading news online, we need to have a different kind of talk — one that teaches them the rules of the road for navigating life online.

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey, 50% of children receive their first smartphone by age 11, and 74% have access to laptops and desktops as early as six-years-old. There’s no doubt technology is playing a huge role in our children’s development. It just doesn’t make sense to ignore this enormous part of their lives. Having open and ongoing conversations about online safety and responsibility is essential to the well-being and overall safety of children.

However, when I chat with other parents about having a digital safety talk with our kids, I get the sense they find it overwhelming because they don’t know what topics to cover. And that’s understandable. How can we possibly know how to approach talking about everything our kids see online when we didn’t grow up with the same devices, sites and apps they use today? Not to mention the fact that parents often tell me that they also feel pressured to buy their kids new devices that their peers and classmates are using, regardless of whether or not their kids are ready for that kind of responsibility.

Fortunately, there’s a free, online tool to help families navigate these issues and talk about digital safety. It’s called The Smart Talk. National PTA and LifeLock developed it for families who want their digitally savvy kids to learn and have fun through technology, but also make sure that they are building positive habits to stay safe and be responsible online. The Smart Talk gives families an opportunity to talk about the issues that can come up as kids use smartphones, social media and apps — while they’re still developing emotional intelligence skills.

Since the tool is online, you can have The Smart Talk as a family whenever it works best for you. After developing an agreement together, you can print a copy of the agreement, hang it where you’ll see it (like on your fridge) and revisit as needed.

I’ve had The Smart Talk with my each of my boys — and they even enjoyed it (at least more than they enjoyed having that other talk)!  We plan on regularly checking in on our digital safety agreements. When that happens, I’m sure they’ll teach me a new thing or two, and we’ll have to evolve our agreements accordingly.

Join me in partnering up with your kids as we try to make the internet better and safer — have The Smart Talk tonight.

Kim Allman is the Vice President of Government Affairs and Corporate Social Responsibility at Lifelock.

The Leader in You

Did you know that PTAs are run by volunteers? From the local level to the National PTA board of directors, volunteers govern our PTA association. Have you ever wondered how you can get more involved in child advocacy or education-related work?

It starts by raising your hand and getting involved. That’s what I’ve done, and it’s taken me from my local unit all the way up to the national level. At each level, my skills and knowledge in PTA, nonprofit governance and leadership grew. Here’s my story:

I first became interested in PTA when my daughter entered kindergarten. Even though I was a Girl Scout leader and served on the board of directors for the preschool, I had never attended a PTA meeting in those first two years. However, at the end of the second year, I noticed that the PTA had a vacancy in the office of president. I figured that it was a great opportunity for me to grow my communication and people skills and serve others, especially children and families.

I was elected and decided to attend my state PTA’s summer leadership conference to learn more about PTA, as well as my duties and responsibilities. This became a defining moment in my PTA journey—I was in awe! More than 700 individuals were in attendance at the conference, all focused on a mission to better the lives of students and their families. I was able to network with other like-minded volunteers and learn from state leaders about the structure and history of PTA. I knew then that I wanted to be part of this movement where parents, families and educators work together to advocate for children and youth.

After two years as a local leader, I moved up to the council level, where I first served as the vice president and then president. It was at this time that I experienced how effective and important PTA’s advocacy efforts were in my county and throughout the state. While attending our elementary school PTA meeting, I learned that the school’s playground needed to be replaced. Our council worked tirelessly to present testimony to show the school board all the elementary school playground equipment and the disparities between the schools. Based on our efforts, the school board decided that the county would take on the expense of the playgrounds.

My leadership journey continued as I served as the first vice president and then president of Maryland PTA. There was a great deal to learn in running a nonprofit business with staff while managing local units and fulfilling the PTA mission. Working with staff was a new experience for me, with oversight and direction as well as hiring and firing. Part of the work also involved working with local units to talk about the PTA programs and learn about nonprofit governance. All of these experiences added to my skill set and cemented my passion for child advocacy.

It was while volunteering with Maryland PTA that I learned about National PTA’s advocacy efforts, nonprofit laws and business management. I remember attending my first Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, where I learned about the important issues and met our state legislators when we went to PTA day on the Hill. To this day, I am excited to attend the conference and am proud to participate in advocating on behalf of our members to the legislators. I believe this is an important part of our mission.

Two years after my term as president of Maryland PTA ended, I was elected to the National PTA board of directors, which I served on from 2009 to 2011. During that time, I gained a greater awareness of the diversity we have in our education system and how rural states operate.

I believe in PTA so much, that I am now on staff as a national service representative where I’ve been on staff for over three years.

My volunteer PTA leadership journey has offered many experiences and opportunities to learn and grow, both personally and professionally. Throughout the years, I’ve made many lifelong friends and gone on adventures that I would have never dreamed possible. I have been involved in important advocacy work for the children, families and educators fulfilling the mission of PTA. I treasure the work I’ve done and what I’ve learned along my journey. I hope you take the opportunity to raise your hand, and start your own.

Mary Jo Neil is a National Service Representative at National PTA.

Delegate or Do it Yourself?

This piece was first featured on Portland Council PTA’s blog.

Have you delegated a task, only to find out that the result wasn’t what you expected? Do you micromanage because you want things done properly? Many PTA leaders fail to delegate because they think it’s quicker to do it themselves—they can’t trust others to do the work or feel that they will just end up re-doing it themselves, so they may as well do it from the start. They are usually afraid that tasks won’t be completed in a timely manner or to a standard that they expect, so they often don’t delegate.

But delegation is a critical component for an effective PTA.

When you delegate successfully, you further the PTA as a whole, because as people gain confidence and experience, they will also grow as leaders. Delegation isn’t just a matter of telling someone else what to do. Truly effective delegation is assigning the right tasks to the right people and then guiding them to be successful in their tasks.

So how do you effectively delegate? Here are a few tips:

  • Develop an action plan for tasks. Give timelines, deadlines and expectations to your team. Give people plenty of time to ask questions and then complete the tasks.
  • Check in frequently, but don’t monitor too closely. Setting progress update meetings from the start will allow you to set your expectations and check in along the way. It also gives you a chance to make sure that the project is moving in the right direction before it is beyond the “point of no return.” Don’t be afraid to give constructive feedback, but also don’t micro-manage.
  • Break down larger projects into smaller tasks and delegate pieces out to an entire group of people. This can help keep work manageable while developing a team atmosphere. Again, be sure to assign each task to the person best suited to handle it to keep the project moving. There is nothing worse for your volunteers or board members than waiting on someone else in order to complete their own work.
  • If something does fall through, don’t take the work back on yourself. Accept that sometimes things need to fail to succeed. Reflect on if the project truly needs this task to be completed. Use caution if you need to re-delegate tasks to another person, as that can cause hard feelings between people.
  • Be sure to give credit where it’s due, but don’t place blame when things fail. The end result of the project was a team effort, whether it succeeded or failed.

Delegation takes some practice, but doing it effectively will free you up to do the things that only you can do for the PTA. When you delegate effectively, you can save time, balance your own workload and achieve more for your PTA, while furthering the growth of the organization and future leaders. That’s a win-win for everyone!

Lisa Kensel is the Portland Council PTA President.

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

A New Year for Family and School Health


(Sponsored Post) It’s a new year, and for many of us it’s a time to assess our health and resolve to shed a few pounds, add more fruits and vegetables to our diets, get more exercise and generally do what we can to make ourselves and our families healthier.

It’s also a good time to take stock of the health of your child’s school. After all, that’s where they spend most of their time outside of your home—nearly 1,200 hours each year. Start with a simple quiz to see what you know about your child’s school. Does the school:

  • Allow adequate time for kids to have recess?
  • Provide active indoor recess to ensure kids get physical activity during inclement weather?
  • Ask parents to bring healthy snacks instead of sweet treats for birthdays and celebrations?
  • Incorporate active games and non-food rewards as part of classroom celebrations?
  • Provide opportunities for physical activity during the school day, such as brain breaks in the classroom?
  • Adhere to Smart Snacks standards for school meals and foods sold in school?
  • Host healthy fundraisers involving nutritious foods or physical activity?

If you answered “no” or “I don’t know” to any of these questions, don’t despair. Join your school’s or PTA’s wellness team and find out! Then pick an area where you can make a difference. Get inspired by others like Tara Fisher-Munoz, a parent in Austin, Texas who took her passion and expertise in gardening to form the Go Green Team PTA with other volunteers and start the school’s garden program. Or Dana Dougherty, a parent and substitute teacher in Arlington, Virginia, who worked with her PTA to set up the 2FIT2QUIT team, that organized 5Ks and family fitness fairs and secured pedal desks to keep kids active while learning.

These parents started with big ideas but small steps. They and many others will attest that once you get started, it’s hard to stop, because just one program can spur a culture of health at school. By getting involved in school wellness, you can also help reinforce those healthy habits your kids are learning at home – and likely learn something new for a healthier you, too.

Learn more about how to get involved in school health at ActionforHealthyKids.org and celebrate your school’s health and wellness during Every Kid Healthy Week.

Amy Moyer, MPH, RD, is the VP Field Operations with Action for Healthy Kids and mother of two girls.

Action for Healthy Kids is a National PTA sponsor and has been invited to submit a blog post as part of their engagement with PTA.

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.