|Standing in the NY State Senate Chamber|
Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Albany to be a part of New York State PTA's Legislative Education Conference (or "LegEd" for short) and Lobby Day. Given that I am the current Education Chair for my Regional PTA, and I've spent the past 4-5 years reading more education news from our state than I ever thought I would in my life, I anticipated the weekend with more than just a little excitement. It seemed like a nearly perfect fit.
I say a "nearly" perfect fit, because I knew going in that there are a few areas where National PTA's position and my personal position just don't always agree. But I have come to realize that I'm okay with that. Where I stand personally is what I believe to be in the best interest for MY children and their education, and as the parent, that is my right - and THAT is something that National PTA and I can agree on.
As I attended workshops on Saturday and Sunday for this LegEd Conference, I sat with 90 other fellow advocates. These were all NYS PTA members who were and are just as concerned as I am about the "hot button" education issues that continuously keep us guessing in our state. We were also looking to gain additional insight on how to become better and more effective advocates for our students and families in our own school districts.
It was on Sunday afternoon, however, when I gathered with a smaller group. 18 NYS PTA members who had something to say, who wanted to be heard, and we represented the entire state from Buffalo to Long Island. 18 individuals who headed to our State Capitol Building to meet with legislators to discuss specific issues on funding education, early childhood education, family engagement, and the health & wellness of our students.
Specifically, our Governor's budget proposal just does not adequately address the education needs of our state.
No surprise there, right?
Six different meetings - six different experiences that I took away from each one. I didn't take the opportunity to meet with my own local legislators, as this day was about key meetings with key individuals.
Our first meeting was with the Assembly Education Committee Chair's Chief of Staff. Although we were unable to meet with Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan herself due to a funeral, her staff members spent a lot of time sitting down with us and listening. (I love when you can just tell that they're really listening!) Probably the longest meeting of our day, I was confident they would be taking our information and presenting it to the Assemblywoman with our concerns.
Senate Majority Leader, John Flanagan's staff members met with us for what ended up being a very quick meeting, but still very attentive. I was concerned at first that this was a "you're on our schedule, but we're not really paying attention to you" meeting. However, after presenting our positions to them, they did ask questions, they did prod for more info, and they did dialogue briefly before running to their next meeting. The time was certainly appreciated! (And as a bonus we ran into our fellow lobbying group from North Rockland who were there advocating for full-day Kindergarten in their district!)
Our next meeting with the Governor's Deputy Secretary of Education...well that was an opposite conversation. It really is true that you just can't win them all. He was polite, he listened, and he may or may not have done some dancing around our positions. I would like to believe, however, that we all agree that the heroin and prescription opiates epidemic are devastating to our families across New York State.
Our meeting with Senator Marcellino, head of the Senate Education Committee, was a high point, because I think he just "got it". We were able to engage in a real two-way dialogue with him, and I believe he heard what we were saying and realized the importance of what we were asking.
- A minimum $2.2 billion school aid increase to ensure educational equity and to meet state expectations.
- Supporting the Regents request to fund family engagement efforts.
- PREDICTABLY fund early education in NYS
- Support NYS PTA initiatives to improve response to heroin and opiate/opiod abuse.
During what was supposed to be our final official meeting of the day, we met with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie's staff member. Personally, I found him difficult to get a good read on...a personable fellow, yet I got the impression his mind was going in about 15 different directions. (Although, I imagine as Deputy Chief of Staff to the Assembly Speaker, it probably was.) ** On a side note, I let him borrow my pen - my favorite pen - and I'm guessing that it is currently making its way through the New York State Assembly since I never got it back. That's right - Making history through writing utensils!!
When our scheduled appointments had finished, and we had walked back and forth between the Legislative Office Buildings and the Capitol Building at least three different times, our group made our way to one last-minute scheduled meet and greet. One of our members had contacted Senator David Carlucci, and although it was only a brief moment, it was another set of ears hearing what we were advocating for.
At the end of the day, this is what I know: Public education and our children are getting the short end of the stick financially, and families are finding themselves in a living nightmare because of heroin and opioid/opiate abuse. This particular weekend was just one way to be a voice and make sure that the funding will be there to begin to fix what is broken within the system and most importantly to educate. This is what I will continue to advocate for whenever I can, because my children - and every child - deserves to have the very best opportunities available to them.