NYS PTA Legislative Summit and Lobby Day Stories

February kicked off NYS PTA’s advocacy efforts with our Legislative Summit and Lobby Day.

It was an incredible event that empowered 100 local NYS PTA leaders to come together to go to the Capitol in Albany to Take Action on key issues impacting children, families and communities.

Here are some stories from advocates across New York.

The Legislative Summit was eye-opening. Even already knowing what I know from my own school district about next year’s budget, the information that we came home with from the Saturday sessions was invaluable. I truly appreciated Commissioner Elia taking the time to meet with us, keep us informed AND offer answers to our questions. Now I’m looking forward to being a part of the conversation with all of my legislators here in their local offices.

Candy Ditkowski, Western Region

In this electronic age, there is a continual movement of communication between the people and the lawmakers via letters, tweets, emails, newsletters, postcards, and newspaper articles. It is easy for me to express opinions, feelings, and beliefs, and pass information onto legislators. Similarly, these government officials can easily respond. In these instances though, two-way dialogue, emotions, and personal connections are absent. That is what makes the Legislative Day distinctive: we get to sit down and have educated discussions with those who legislate. Our two-way dialogue allows us to present the needs of our children with follow-up questions, shared stories, and civil debates. We interact and consult, and I left most meetings understanding we are fighting for the same purpose, even if we walked away disagreeing on a particular motion or two, although in many cases we changed someone’s mind. We left having made new connections, exchanged phone numbers, ideas, and plans to continue the dialogue in the weeks and years to come. As weird as this is to write, it is satisfying to meet our lawmakers as people instead of tweets …. In one case, a PTA member was walked by a senate staff member from the location of our scheduled meeting to a separate location in the capital so her senator, who stepped out of a budget meeting, could meet and discuss the PTA issues with her personally …

I was saddened to hear many legislators … say, “At the end of the day my job is to look after my constituents, getting my district the most money possible.” To me this implied they would pull as much into their district even to the detriment of other districts and children. As a mom and a PTA member, I look after my children AND children in my unit AND children in my region AND children in my state AND children in my country. I fight to get aid and funding for all children and I wish more legislators had a similar message. I wish they all understood the necessity to fight for all children, not just those in their district.

Jill Paterson, Western Region

Our team from Suffolk met with aides from the following legislators:

Senator Ken LaValle
Senator Phil Boyle
Senator Tom Croci
Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino
Assembly Steve Engelbright

In addition to each of the aforementioned receiving the packet of NYS-PTA positions that was prepared for us, I want you to know that I’ll be sending those packets out to the other State Senators & Assembly members which represent Suffolk County residents, via email within the next few days. I also wanted to call your attention to another matter that was brought to my attention & confirmed by the Commissioner last Sunday evening. The NYS Department of Education is terribly understaffed and is having a difficult time meeting their obligations to our schools. We originally became aware of this when our schools began awaiting extremely long periods of time to get their spending plans for locally approved bond issues & Smart Schools money approved. I firmly believe that we should lobby whoever necessary (legislators, Governor’s Office) to get the State Ed Department proper staffed. Looking forward to working with you over the few months, as work to position 2018-19 to be the best school year possible.

Gerry Bringmann, Suffolk Region

On Monday, February 12 I participated in NYS PTA Lobby Day on behalf of Nassau Region PTA. The talking points we were given by NYS PTA were School Aid, Diplomas for All Children, Career and Technical Education, English Language Learner Support, Support for Family Engagement, Heroin and Opiate Epidemic and Recovery High Schools, Electronic Cigarettes and their increased Use by Children, No Child Goes Hungry, Mental Health Programs for Students and Pre-K and Kindergarten for All Children.

Our group from Nassau Region PTA meet with representatives from the offices of Assemblyman Lavine, Senator Brooks, Assemblyman Curran, Assemblyman Montesano, Assemblyman Marcellino, Assemblywoman and Senator Hannon.

Our group decided to focus on four issues because of time constraints.

The first: Investment in Children. NYS PTA would like to see a $2 billion increase in the state budget for education. The districts need $1.5 billion just to maintain what is currently funded. NYS PTA opposes the proposed cap on Expense Based Aid. Many districts have already taken out bonds with the current rate and with the regular tax cap the only way to make up the difference if the Expense Based Aid Cap is approved is to take money from the students. NYS PTA also opposes the proposal for state approval of district budgets for the Big 5 and sixteen other districts the following year. The NYS department of Education already has its ESSA plan approved which requires districts to submit their budgets to the federal and state governments. This plan would take away local control from the voters.

Secondly: We focused on Mental Health. Superintendents were asked their top priority for funding and 52 % of them had mental health, counseling and social work as their top concern. NYS PTA fully supports the $250,00 allocation to create mental health support grants for community schools. NYS PTA also supports Recovery High Schools in all communities and the proposed .02 cent per morphine milligram tax on every first sale of opioids by the manufacture. This would encourage doctors to prescribe non-opioid pain relievers which are not as addictive.

Thirdly: Support for English Language Learners. NYS PTA advocates for dedicated funding for ELL students, especially in districts with a high density of diverse language speakers. And requests adjusted aid for students who come into the district after the school year has started. As of now there is no increase in funding for influxes of unaccompanied minors once the school year has begun.

And finally: Fully funded full day Kindergarten and a Pre-K program for all four year olds in NYS.

Kathy Rea, Nassau Region

The 2018 Legislative Summit was truly spectacular! Although reminding me of the wonderful Leg Ed Conferences from long ago, this year’s event far exceeded my experiences of the past. Unfortunately my work schedule did not permit me to experience the legislative visits on Monday, however, the Sunday event was well worth staying for. Each of our speaker panels offered us their input on the current legislation/education state of affairs. We were also well prepared by our PTA leaders on our issues and how to present these issues to our representatives. I was most impressed by Commissioner Elia’s presentation. She was honest and hopeful and tackled all the issues in a way I have never seen any other NYS Commissioner of Education do. For me, it was the highlight of the event. I am so proud of our NYS PTA Advocacy Team for organizing such a fabulous event and so pleased with the turnout of volunteers from across our state, including five student members! I encourage each of you to plan ahead to attend the 2019 event-every child in NYS needs your voice!

Lorey A. Zaman, Vice President, NYS PTA

For a couple of years now I have listened to two of my friends talk about how great the NYS PTA Legislative Summit is. The opportunity to advocate for all children on hot topics. And for years they have told me to go, that it is right up my alley. This year, the stars aligned, and I was able to go and holy cow! What an amazing experience and opportunity!

The week before we received emails regarding our talking points, Mental Health programs, Recovery High Schools, Family Engagement, No Child Should Go Hungry, Career and Technical Education, Support of ELL and their Families, Supporting our Youngest Learners, A Meaningful Diploma for ALL Students and Protecting Children from Tobacco and E-Cigs. I was pumped, they were amazing and two were topics (Mental Health programs and Recovery Schools) that I have been trying to work on the local level independently and now I would be working on them on the state level with an amazing team and group of people.

​Sunday, we spent the afternoon and evening in workshops listening to what the hot topics were, the climate of the political arena in relation to what we were looking for additional aid for, how to lobby effectively and current educational issues and policies. The amount of information received, and the quality of information presented was bountiful, professional and very informative. We were afforded many opportunities to ask questions regarding concerns we may have had and for information we may have needed.

Monday morning, after breakfast and additional engaging and informative speakers, our team got together to plan our course of action for the day. My team was from the Suffolk County Region and consisted of Kelly Short, Michele Favaro-Campbell, Karen Wedding-Viola, Gerard Bringmann, Maureen Meier and myself. Our team leader, Kelly Short was very organized, supportive and full of knowledge. Her interaction with the staff members at each legislative office was warm, engaging and showed true professionalism. We discussed what topics we were individually familiar with and planned how our presentation would go. And the we were off to the state Capitol!

Our first visit was with Senator Phil Boyle’s office where we met with two of his aides and were given their undivided attention. Maureen lead this meeting and we all worked off of each other sharing our knowledge on the topics. This was the format we followed for the rest of the meetings too. Kelly would start the session as she had a familiarity with the offices from prior meetings and then each one of us was given the opportunity to present first. As far as teams went, I feel we were a very well-oiled machine. The second visit was with Senator Tom Croci’s office where we met with his Chief of Staff. That was my turn to present first and the butterflies were fluttering. The meeting went off without a hitch and then we were off to Assemblyman Andrew Garbarino’s office where we met with his intern and Gerry led the meeting. As he was a college student, it was even better and more engaging as he could really relate to the importance of the issues we were discussing. Next up was Senator Kenneth Lavalle’s office where we met with his executive assistant and Karen led the meeting. His executive assistant was very engaging and showed great concern over our topics. Our last stop for the day was Assemblyman Steve Englebright’s office where we met with an aide. Michele led this meeting and did phenomenal. Every single office provided us with contact information so we can follow up.

I left this experience, the NYS PTA Legislative Summit, feeling so excited and amazed at what we can do as a team. The entire experience, from beginning to end was incredible. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to advocate for the children and improvements to the educational experiences they get. It is an experience that really gets you motivated. It was eye opening and maybe even a bit life changing for me as know I am reevaluating how I can best advocate for all children. Bevin Llanes, Suffolk Region

As soon as Team 2 arrived on the hill, led by Melissa Cancro, team members Anna-Christina Allen, Devin Barbera, Karen Beltran, Amany Dgheim, Jenean Eichenholtz, Tiffany Morrison and Karen Quimby sprang into action. Everyone felt well prepared to advocate for children and youth focusing on legislative priorities thoroughly discussed the prior day during the Legislative Summit. Talking points as well as personal stories helped Team 2 make the case for more education funding, mental health services, opioid recovery centers, paths to a special education diploma, among others. Legislators were all ears when Devin recounted his young school mates’ unfortunate use of electronic cigarettes disguised as common every day items easy for nonconspicuous eyes to miss. Visits included meeting staffers for Assemblymembers Kevin Byrne, Helley Mayer, Tom Abinanti, and Senators Sue Serino and Terrence Murphy, as well as meetings with Assemblymembers Sandy Galef, Didi Barrett, Ellen Jaffee and Senator David Carlucci. In the midst of legislative meetings, some members of the team were even able to show support by participating in the Yonkers community members’ rally for public education. New York State PTA’s Legislative Summit and Lobby Day provided the perfect kick off for upcoming regional legislative events and further grassroots advocacy.

Amany Messieha Dgheim, MD, Region Director, Central Hudson Region PTA

I attended the Sunday training in preparation for the lobby day on Monday, and I thought the array of speakers we had were phenomenal. From the media to the board of superintendents to Commissioner Elia herself, plus more, the day was filled with excitement, as well as information. After meeting as a whole group and reviewing the issues to be discussed with the legislators, we broke up into teams and brainstormed how we could personally relate to each topic in order to connect more fully with the legislators. Originally I was supposed to fly back early Monday morning to Chicago where I attend college. However, my flight was cancelled, and I was able to tag along with a group heading for the capitol. Never have I dreamed of talking to legislators; politics has never interested me. The opportunity I was given to have a conversation with legislators and their staff about education, where I grew up and where my siblings still go to school, was very eye-opening, surprisingly easy, and fun! I cannot wait to attend next year and recruit more people to come. This legislative summit was definitely the best PTA event I have ever attended.

Khaleela Zaman, NYS PTA Youth Member, Leatherstocking Region