It’s that time again. February 5 marks the opening of the 2013 Regular Legislative Session. 105 Representatives from the House and 35 Senators will gather to deliberate which laws need to be passed for the betterment of our communities. They will have 105 calendar days into which they must fit 30 days of work. That gives them till May 21st by my calculation.
[For the full “I’m Just a Bill” video, click here. Sure it’s the federal journey, but there is something to be learned from this classic.]
Lots of organizations have bill trackers (see this page for a list…it’s pretty interesting to see which bills they choose to track) in order to keep up with bills of interest to them. Keeping up with bills that may have an impact on K-12 public education was the reason this web site was created in 2009.
The ASC tables are updated and ready for input. The Current Legislation page will house all bills that are under consideration by the House and the Senate. Further, categories of legislation are provided in order for you to pinpoint an area of interest (hover over the “Current Legislation” link in the menu at the top of this page). These categories are:
- Open Meetings
- Public Records
- School Calendar
- School Choice– including bills addressing charter schools and school flexibility
- School Personnel
- School Policy and Curriculum
- School Safety
- Special Education
- Student Health and Welfare
- Teen Driving
A link to the actual bill is provided, and a brief description along with the status, is provided as well. The Current Legislation page, along with the categorized pages, will be updated weekly during the session, most likely on the weekends to allow for ALISON to be updated, as that is where all of this information comes from. If you don’t see any bills under a particular category, it just means there aren’t any that have been filed yet.
NOTE: When you click on the link to the bill, this box will come up:
Just click ok, and the PDF of the bill will be viewable. (Wish they’d fix that.)
Your State Legislators
State legislators say time and again that they want to hear from us. Here’s a post giving you specific ways to let your voice be heard. You don’t have to be an expert on the subject to share your voice with your legislator. And you can be sure that “special interest groups” are always letting their voices be heard.
Here’s the House roster and the Senate roster, though they probably lack a few updates right now. Both the House and the Senate claim to stream live audio, and the Senate claims to stream live video, but in my experience, if you really need to listen in to whatever it is they’re deliberating, plan on being in Montgomery.
To Whom Legislators Are Listening – Special Interest Groups
Certainly the phrase “special interest group” can have a negative connotation, but it shouldn’t in this case. Each of us has our special interests. And we have plenty of special interest groups in Alabama.
The various professional educator associations (School Superintendents of Alabama, Councils for Leaders in Alabama Schools, Alabama Association of School Boards, Alabama Education Association, Alabama Federation of Teachers) spend lots of time monitoring activity in Montgomery and most all schedule “legislative days” where their members visit Montgomery and speak directly with their legislators (click the links for more information). Lobbyists are employed by these organizations as well (the link takes you to a report of names, but sadly doesn’t indicate on whose behalf the lobbyists are lobbying).
PTOs and PTAs
Sadly, parents and families have few organized ways to let their voices be heard through their schools and districts. Some schools have Parent Teacher Organizations (PTOs) while others have Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs). PTAs are traditionally more active in legislation and advocacy than PTOs are. Most PTOs have no formal way (in their bylaws) that permits them to advocate. PTOs are typically known as support organizations, rather than advocacy (I think of it in terms of the “A” in PTA as standing for “Advocacy”). Certainly there are exceptions, but the vast majority of PTO bylaws that I have reviewed do not have any way to get organized to support or challenge legislation as a group.
Unless your school’s Parent Teacher Organization is particularly resourceful, it is doubtful that they will schedule a Legislative Day for you to visit Montgomery as PTOs function as independent bodies, not connected in a hierarchical way to an overarching organizational council in the way PTAs are.
PTAs have formal Legislative and Advocacy positions within their Officer structure, committing their members to stay informed and to step up and speak out when the need arises. Involving themselves in legislation and advocacy is an integral part of the PTA.
The Alabama PTA has scheduled its Legislative Day for Wednesday, February 20, meeting at 8:30 a.m. at Alabama PTA offices, then conducting visits from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. If you are a member of a PTA in Alabama, you should take advantage of this opportunity to let your voice be heard. Here are the National PTA positions on various areas of education. While I could find no corresponding Alabama PTA positions on their web site, the Alabama PTA’s position cannot conflict with the National PTA’s position in any area, so the national positions are a great starting place.
Certainly there are issue-specific advocacy groups like the Alabama Association for Gifted Children, the Autism Society of Alabama, and other related groups, but it’s tough for ordinary parents and families who don’t fit into any of those groups to have an organized voice.
The Alabama Children’s Movement
The Alabama Children’s Movement was born in 2012 to help get folks organized around a platform that improves children’s lives. There are many organizational members (yes, you’ll find the Alabama School Connection on their list!). Join the movement! You’re not making any promises, nor any financial investment (membership is free), and you’re not engaging in any lobbying activities. Take the time to page through their web site to learn what they’re about and please consider adding your name to their list.
The Alabama School Connection Will Keep You Informed!
Tracking legislation is precisely why the ASC came to life in 2009: to help you, the regular parent and family member, track legislation that might affect your school community. So check back with us on a weekly basis, like the ASC on facebook, follow the ASC on twitter (@ALSchoolConnect), follow the ASC boards on Pinterest.
If a piece of legislation catches your eye, start a conversation! Talk with your parent groups, the folks at your church, bring it up in your grocery store chats. Spread the word. Then make an effort to share your thoughts with your state legislators. Check this post out for a simple way to get organized and let your voice be heard!
We must engage our state legislators if we are to influence positive change in our K-12 Alabama public schools. Start now.