Does Advocacy Matter?

PTA was founded 120 years ago to focus on advocacy on behalf of children, and many things we take for granted today—child labor laws, the juvenile justice system, childhood immunizations, the school lunch program—happened because of PTA advocacy. But when we look back at those examples today, our thoughts may lean towards those being obvious choices—of course children shouldn’t work in dangerous factories and mines, be locked up with adult prisoners, die from preventable diseases, or go hungry at school. As individuals, we may feel that our voice is too small, that there are too many lobbyists with too much money drowning out what we’re saying. So, does advocacy matter?

At Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield in 2016, a dozen PTA advocates visited legislators and their staff to push for passage of SB550, a school drinking water lead testing bill that was stuck in committee and going nowhere. Hundreds of other PTA advocates participated in our online Call to Action to contact their legislators as well. The result was a “dead” bill suddenly moving to passage and signed into law.

The law is a great success for PTA advocacy, and we should all be proud of our efforts, but passing a law often seems abstract when trying to get others to join us in advocacy. That is why it is important to remember that passing laws or developing regulations are like only the building of a rocket. It is the implementation that is what launches that rocket.

So what has been the real effect of passing SB550? Schools have been testing their drinking water, and how that testing will benefit young children in Illinois is becoming increasingly clear. School districts across the state are having to deal with unsafe drinking water that has been harming children for decades. Note this small sample of news articles, citing schools with high lead levels:

And there are many more school districts like those listed. It should also be noted that Chicago Public Schools began testing for lead before the law was passed.

So the efforts of about 1% of Illinois PTA members advocating for children means that high lead contamination of drinking water in day cares and elementary schools will soon be a thing of the past. That will make a significant difference in the lives of each of those children, and that is why advocacy matters. Imagine what we could accomplish if every PTA member was actively advocating for children.

Get Involved Now!

Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield 2017 was last week. If you weren’t able to join us, contact your legislators now (it literally takes two minutes), and don’t forget to sign up for the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network to ensure you don’t miss additional opportunities to speak up for Illinois children.

 

 

Illinois PTA Advocacy Day 2017

Today is Illinois PTA Advocacy Day. Even if you can’t join us in Springfield, you can still participate. If you have a few minutes sometime in the next few days, send an e-mail to your legislators. The text is prewritten for you, though you can edit it or add more if you would like to. Then, add your contact information and hit send.

If you have a bit more time, schedule a meeting with your legislators at their district offices. They will be in Springfield this week for the veto session, but will be back in their districts next week. If you’re not sure how to set up a meeting or how to talk to a legislator, be sure to check out our webinar from last year on How to Meet with Legislators.

Illinois PTA is advocating on three key issues this year for Advocacy Day:

  • Education Funding: The new funding formula starts Illinois on a path towards adequate and equitable funding, but without additional funding added to the formula in future years, we will continue to have the most inequitable school funding in the country.
  • Environmental Concerns: Based on our 2017 resolutions on climate change and hydraulic fracturing (fracking), we are asking legislators to support science-based regulations on carbon emissions and fracking operations to protect children’s health and the environment.
  • Justice-Involved Young Adults: Based on our report to the 2017 Illinois PTA Convention, we are asking lawmakers to consider legislation treating those ages 18 to 24 involved in the justice system differently from those 25 and older, as scientific research indicates that young adults in that age range behave much more like teenagers than adults due to brain development.

If you are unsure what to say about these topics to your legislator, check out our 2017 Hot Topics webinar or contact Illinois PTA Legislative Advocacy Director Lisa Garbaty, who can provide you with talking points and handouts to share.

Finally, don’t miss out on the opportunity to make your voice heard on important advocacy issues in the future. Find out about Illinois PTA Calls to Action by signing up for the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network.

 

Aligning National PTA and Illinois PTA Legislative Priorities: Special Education

The National PTA Legislative Checklist calls for the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) that further supports and improves the lives of more than 6.5 million eligible children, from infants through youth. Reauthorization must:

  • Include a statutory definition of family engagement in education based on National Standards for Family-School Partnerships within section 602 of IDEA.
  • Provide greater protections for the rights of children with special needs, as well as their families, to ensure access to resources and supports for high-quality education.
  • Require transition planning for qualifying students to begin no later than age 14, incentivizing school districts to employ appropriate staff to deliver services.
  • Support the inclusion of behavioral intervention plans in a student’s IEP and 504b plan.

One of the fundamentals of IDEA is the inclusion of Procedural Safeguards designed to enumerate the rights of both the student and family, and the school district when determining appropriate educational programs for students with special needs. These safeguards include, but are not limited to:

  • The parents’ right to receive a complete explanation of all the procedural safeguards, the method of submitting any complaints, and the mechanism for resolving disputes,
  • The right to confidentiality
  • The right to review in its entirety a student’s educational record
  • The right to participate in meetings to identify, evaluate, or place a student in a particular educational program, including the provisions of a free appropriate education for the student (FAPE)
  • The right to obtain an independent educational evaluation
  • The right to prior written notice on matters relating to the student
  • The right to give or deny consent before the school make take certain action with regard to the student
  • The right to disagree with decisions made by the school system

The Illinois PTA recognizes that the educational environment for students with special needs, as defined within the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), must consider the needs of the student as part of the planning process. One critical element of assessing student needs continues to be funding. Item 3c of the Illinois PTA Legislation Platform calls for full funding of all mandated educational and special programs so that all students will have the opportunity to reach their full potential. This position is expanded in Item 3g of the platform which calls for adequate appropriations for the education of special needs students.

In addition, we support the development of Social and Emotional Learning Standards (SEL) which provide content, skills, evaluation, and assessment at age appropriate levels as part of the curricula crafted by Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).

Aligning National PTA and Illinois PTA Legislative Priorities: Juvenile Justice

The 2017-18 Federal Public Policy Agenda Checklist of the National PTA calls for the reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA), reducing the number of youth unnecessarily involved in the justice system. Reauthorization must include that the juvenile justice system:

  • Incentivize family and community based alternatives to incarceration
  • Eliminate certain exceptions to the Deinstitutionalization of Status Offenders core requirement
  • Extend the Jail Removal and Sight and Sound Separation core requirements to all children under the age of 18 during all forms of detainment
  • Require states to establish solutions to reduce racial and ethnic disparities

Item 11 of the Illinois PTA Legislation Platform addresses Juvenile Justice issues, calling for adequate programs on both state and local level for:

  • The prevention of juvenile delinquency
  • Services for early intervention for juvenile offenders
  • Treatment and separation of dependent and delinquent children in institutions and in Juvenile Court, as well as original exclusive jurisdiction over children and youth under age 18 to be in the Juvenile Court
  • Support of laws and regulations in our justice system that address the differing needs of youth as they continue to mature from age 18 to age 25

In addition to these items found in the platform, the Illinois PTA holds continuing positions on the support and supervision of youthful offenders in residential facilities; support for the federal Juvenile Delinquency and Prevention Act, including adequate appropriations to facilitate the Act; a strong Juvenile Court System in Illinois recognizing that youthful offenders should not be treated in the same manner as adult offenders; and a Juvenile Justice system that is focused on rehabilitation.

These positions highlight a number of legislative successes. Illinois has raised the age of majority from 17 to 18 for the juvenile justice system. Juvenile offenders are now separated from adults when incarcerated. Redeploy Illinois, a program supported by Illinois PTA, is successfully reducing the rate of recidivism of youth also reducing costs by avoiding incarceration. During the state budget crisis, Illinois PTA pointed out that closure of Redeploy Illinois programs in 23 counties meant that 275 youth served by the program at a cost of $1.6 million would need to be incarcerated at a cost of $30.5 million. Illinois PTA’s report on consideration of how to handle “emerging adults,” (19 to 25) differently has received attention across the United States.

Just this year, with Illinois PTA support, Illinois now requires:

  • Restorative Justice training for all Dept. of Justice personnel (PA100-157)
  • Expansion of the ability to expunge juvenile arrest records (PA100-285)
  • Forbidding expulsion of children from pre-school programs (PA100-105)
  • Forbidding of booking stations in schools (PA100-204)

For further explanation, please refer to the 2017 National PTA Federal Public Policy Agenda, the Illinois PTA Report on Young Adults Involved in the Justice System, Ten Years of Progress (2009), and the complete Illinois PTA Legislation Platform.