03 Apr Sacramento Safari: PTA advocacy and action… way beyond the bake sale
The PTA sent 75 people from the 33rd district to lobby legislators in Sacramento.
I have to make a confession: despite being a longtime member, I thought the PTA was about school fundraising. Although our local PTA rallied to support Culver City’s Parcel Tax in November 2009, beyond that, I didn’t see the bigger picture. My participation had been limited to the silent auctions, raffles, book and bake sales that ensured our kids could maintain free and reduced-rate after-school care, field trips, arts programs, etcetera. These are the immediate issues affecting my children’s individual school that I believe in and continue to support, but their scope is more narrow than what I learned during my trip to Sacramento with the 33rd District PTA.
The California State PTA, represents the 9 million children of California; not just their education, but their health and well-being. The PTA advocates for the whole child: from making sure there is free, safe drinking water in every school, to early care, healthy lifestyles, transitional foster care, special education, mental and oral health, closing the achievement gap, and of course, quality education for all.
“The mission of the California State PTA is to positively impact the lives of all children and families. As part of this mission, the association promotes, supports and engages in advocacy at all levels on issues related to education, community concerns, health and parent involvement.”
The State PTA does real legislative analysis and advocacy. The individuals who work on this level are volunteers who study all proposed legislation to assess their effect on children’s well-being. Needless to say, the cuts in the State budget these past 5 years are of deep concern to the PTA.
The Sacramento Safari has been designed to empower students, parents and teachers to become legislative advocates for California children. Between March 20-23rd 2011, a 75-person delegation from the 33rd District went to the State Capitol to lobby the Legislature to tell them to stop cutting education in California. We received “Advocacy 101” training, including information on Governor Brown’s budget proposal and how it affects school funding. We were then leashed upon the Senate and Assembly to plead our case: school budgets have already been cut to the bone, we can no longer balance the budget on the backs of our children. The most impassioned and effective speakers were the students themselves, who are on the front lines of the war on public education. They spoke of classroom overcrowding, teacher firings, cut programs, dirty facilities and the overwhelming message our society is telling them by the cuts: you and your education don’t matter.
“Vote baby vote!” VS “Cut baby cut!”
The Culver City delegation of the PTA met with an astounding 22 California State legislators and their staff members on March 21st. Our goal: to talk to as many State Senators and Assemblymembers possible so that they will allow the people of California to vote whether to freeze taxes at their current rate in order to stave off further cuts to education, or to let them expire, knowing that deeper, harder cuts will have to be made as a result.
The three Culver City High School students in our delegation shared their first hand experiences with cuts in education; less instructional time because of furloughs, degraded facilities, favorite teachers forced to leave their students and favorite subjects dropped from the curriculum. They asked legislators not to make any more cuts. As the students spoke, party lines were painfully clear: Democrats support Governor Brown’s budget proposal to let voters decide on a tax freeze, Republicans do not.
What were Republicans’ proposals to save public education in California?
There was lots of talk about “flexibility” and “improving the system” – the only concrete proposals I heard were:
1) end collective bargaining for teachers
2) outsource janitors
Only four Republican votes were needed to put the tax freeze on the ballot – they were not given. As of this Monday, it’s too late to put it on the June ballot. By not allowing the people to vote on this issue, they are in effect supporting major education cuts, beyond what our schools have already suffered in the last 5 years. Since there is no Republican plan to raise revenue, the entire budget will be based on cuts.
This poster, photographed here on the door of Republican Assemblymember Shannon L. Grove of the 32nd district, could also be found on a few other doors.
Apologies for the blur… this is what it says:
“(Actual) List of Existing California State Agencies: Which boards and commissions would you eliminate to save the state money?”
The highlighter affixed to the door is then used to highlight the cut “wish list” which included:
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, California Board of Equalization, California Air Resources Board, California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), California Department of Water Resources, and much more.
What now? Is this the future of California?
The main lesson I learned was this: we need to activate our parent base to vote in every election, and educate them on the issues that will affect our children’s day to day lives. We need to bring the PTA advocacy in Sacramento home to our schools: the front lines, where the decisions made by the State Senate and Assembly translate into less books, less teachers, less classes, and less opportunities for a decent education. No bake sale in the world will ever be as valuable as a parent’s educated vote.