National PTA hosted the 2021 Legislative Conference (LegCon) March 9-11. This year’s LegCon was held virtually, making it possible for over 50 WSPTA Members to attend, including Northshore Council PTSA Leaders Nancy Chamberlain, Diana Christiansen, and Rachel Fitzgerald.
LegCon attendees were able to participate in a variety of PTA Advocacy Spotlights and Workshops. Some of these included “Driving Digital Equity”, “Advocating for Federal Resources”, “Keeping Students Safe at Home & School”, and “Supporting and Educating Families During the Pandemic”. One of the highlights of LegCon 2021 was the Mental Health Panel that provided attendees with a spirited discussion of the importance of mental health.
In addition to sharing great PTA ideas, members participated in NPTA’s first ever Virtual Hill Day. Hill Day provides the opportunity for PTA Advocates to meet with national congressional officials. In the pre-Covid times, this would have involved traveling to Washington D.C. to meet in person with elected officials. This year, however, advocates met virtually allowing a lot more members to participate in the meetings with our Senators and Representatives.
Highlights from Hill Day
During the Virtual Hill Day visits, PTA called upon our Members of Congress to:
Advocates representing Northshore PTAs were able to meet with staff members from the offices of both Senator Cantwell and Senator Murray as well as Representative DelBene. During these meetings, attendees were given exciting updates about the COVID Relief Bill which will have over $100 billion for K-12 education. Washington is expected to receive $1.8 billion of that funding. Some of the big features this bill is addressing include childcare issues, after school and summer learning, head start, and higher education.
PTA Members Speak Their Own Truth to Advocate for Every Child
Many members shared personal stories and related them to our asks from congress. One of the most memorable stories was when former Seattle student, Aneesa Roidad, spoke on the importance for students to have access to nutritious food to be able to be focus on learning during the school day. She explained that it is important to improve and fully fund the Child Nutrition Reauthorization. She also emphasized the need for students to feel safe in their schools and how this especially impacts students of color and marginalized students. She asked Senator Murray and Senator Cantwell to support infrastructure funding for schools in the Reopen and Rebuild American’s Schools Act of 2021 so that buildings are clean, safe, and healthy.
Another powerful Hill Day testimony came from Olena Bedendo who shared how difficult it was for her children to keep up in school this year due to a pause in the ESL and reading programs that her children are eligible for. Her story emphasized how important Family Engagement is in a child’s education. One of National PTA’s asks is to increase federal funding for Statewide Family Engagement Centers to $20 million. Currently only 13 states have these programs because they are not fully funded (WA State is not one of them). We know that students whose families are involved in their education attend school more regularly, earn better grades, enroll in more challenging academic programs, and have higher graduation, which makes it even more important to advocate for!
Shannon Otto also provided moving testimony when she spoke on supporting policies which protect all students, including those from historically marginalized populations and communities. Shannon is part of the View Ridge Elementary community, a school which made the news this year because staff members locked a student in a cage on the playground routinely. (Click here to read an article published by KUOW Public Radio about the incident.) Shannon, along with the other advocates from Washington State PTA, asked Senator Murray to reintroduce the Keeping All Students Safe Act, which she has sponsored in past years. Senator Cantwell’s assistant said she would speak to the senator about our concerns.
It was inspiring to hear the personal testimonies as PTA members were advocating for every child. The many events of LegCon 2021 gave advocates a voice nationally and strengthened their PTA knowledge in many different areas. If you want to learn more about how you can increase your advocacy efforts – locally, state-wide, or nationally – visit our Advocacy Page or contact Council’s VP of Advocacy, Diana Christiansen.