Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ohio BATs Lobby the Hill

by Brittany Alexander, Member of Ohio BATs and BAT Leadership Team


Ohio BATs delegates had scheduled meetings with ten of our eighteen elected federal representatives over two busy days in DC. We started day one with a hike to Capitol Hill. It was a bright and beautiful summer day, and I was excited to share our stories with those who make policies that impact our kids. During our lunch break we received a welcome call to reschedule one meeting for the next day.

 Meeting 1: Chris Cooper, Health, Education, and Labor Assistant to Congressman David Joyce (District 14)
This poor guy didn’t get to say much. He told us that Congressman Joyce agrees that there is “too much testing.” He mostly listened as each person shared her point, illustrated by a brief story.

Meeting 2: Anne Sokolov, Legislative Director to Congressman Tim Ryan (District 13)
We decided that we wanted to ask more questions, so we heard more from Anne. Before starting, though, we asked that she share our thanks to Congressman Ryan for his statement about Gov. Kasich’s run for the presidency. She shared that Ryan had opposed HR5 (Student Success Act – House’s version of ESEA rewrite) for a number of reasons. Among them are: gutted federal funding, allowed Title 1 funds to follow students with block grants, and cutting availability of the arts and STEM. We also learned that Ryan introduced a stand-alone bill to address the need for social and emotional curriculum, that he feels “public education is the way to go,” and that he thinks there needs to be more discussion about opt-out without penalties to schools and students.

Meeting 3: Rachel Schwegman, Legislative Assistant to Congressman Robert Latta (District  5)
She told us Congressman Latta supported HR5, mainly because it moves responsibility and accountability to the state level. We also learned that Latta is in favor of repealing Common Core and that he values the idea of school choice.

Meeting 4: Tiffany Angulo, Legislative Assistant to Congressman Jim Jordan (District 4)
She told us Congressman Jordan opposed HR5 because it leaves too much federal intervention where state authority should be. Jordan opposes a “one-size-fits-all” curriculum. In this meeting, a nine-year-old student shared a presentation explaining why she dislikes Common Core math. It was amazing to watch her!

Meeting 5: Allen Ernst, Legislative Correspondent to Senator Rob Portman
He also didn’t get to say much. We asked that he pass our thanks to Senator Portman for key votes in S1177 (Every Child Achieves Act – Senate’s version of ESEA rewrite). These included: Franken’s amendment about LGBT anti-discrimination, Kirk-Reed amendment about the opportunity dashboard, and the Burr amendment that will recalculate how states receive Title 1 funds. He did ask for our opinion of Common Core. Our fearless young advocate again shared her presentation.

Meeting 6: Mark Gilbride, Legislative Assistant and Congressman Steve Stivers (District 15)
We met with Mark for the first part of our time. He told us that Congressman Stivers voted for HR5. Stivers entered and we introduced ourselves to him. He told us that his mom and grandparents were teachers. He said that schools are being “tested to death.” He asked how BATs are different from NEA/AFT.

Day two started just as the first one did. Another beautiful day and another hike up to The Hill.

Meeting 7: Rebecca Duberstein, Legislative Assistant to Congressman Brad Wenstrup (District 2)
She was by far the most attentive listener. She asked questions to follow up with statements and was clear that Congressman Wenstrup has heard numerous testing concerns. She asked what we would like to have instead of yearly testing as well as what we think about HR5. We were able to tie together three main themes: language that includes the workplace study (BATs/AFT), reduce standardized testing (grade-span as an option), and include the opportunity dashboard.

Meeting 8: Leah Hill, Legislative Aide to Senator Sherrod Brown
Before we began our meeting, she quickly perked up to tell us that she knew the BATs because she had looked through the survey results. We also wanted her to pass along our thanks to Senator Brown for his amendment about community schools, his votes on the Franken amendment and the Kirk-Reed amendment. We also shared our disappointment in Brown’s vote on the Murphy amendment that would keep the accountability measures of NCLB in place. It was then that she mentioned having taught for two years and commiserated with our woes. She started to expand on her experience, but abruptly stopped herself. She stated that while we have come a long way, there is “history of ignoring students of color.” We were not surprised to confirm later that she is a TFA alum.

Meeting 9: Donnica Hawes-Saunders, Senior Legislative Assistant to Congressman Joyce Beatty (District 3)
Did not show. We were very disappointed that despite receiving a confirmation of this meeting, the assistant was not in the office and had “no record of our meeting.”

Meeting 10: Meghan Keivel, Executive Assistant to Congressman Bob Gibbs (District 7)
We learned that Congressman Gibbs voted for HR5 because the Administration has encroached in educational policies. Gibbs agrees that the performance standards of NCLB were unattainable, supports grade-span testing and opt-out without penalty, and feels that a strong economy is important to allow for more parental involvement in education. Further, we learned that Gibbs opposes Common Core as it moves our country toward a national school board and national curriculum and also supports allowing Title 1 funding to follow students to non-public schools.

In each meeting, I tried to share my version of why we need the opportunity dashboard idea. It went something like this: We are holding children, teachers, and their schools accountable for the outcomes, but no one is accountable for the incomes. What we put into a school matters. We want our federal, state, and local governments to be accountable for the resources that are available to each child who attends a public school.

As I wrote this, I realized it is nearly impossible to determine who are our friends and who are our enemies. The (mostly) polite listening is done to appease us. Meanwhile, we’re weeks away from a new school year, with no meaningful change in ESEA/NCLB. We will face the same broken mandates that continue to test, label, and punish our children, their educators, and their schools. This is not a game. We are not playing. Our children and our public schools are not given the full and complete attention they deserve. Until it is clear that what is done is right for children and their education, I will be gathering pitchforks!

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