May 2, 2024

Notes from the Capitol: Here’s what WSPTA asked our U.S. representatives

WSPTA advocates Heather Gillette, Angela Steck, Nigar Suleman, and Danica Noble meet Senator Murray's aide Abby Laver.

WSPTA advocates Heather Gillette, Angela Steck, Nigar Suleman, and Danica Noble meet Senator Patty Murray’s aide Abby Laver.

By Nigar Suleman, Federal Legislative Committee

Note: This is part 2 of 2 blog posts covering WSPTA’s experience at the 2024 National PTA Legislative Conference. You can read part 1 here

On the morning of March 6, 2024, our delegation of WSPTA advocates gathered at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. to visit Washington State’s congressional offices to share our legislative priorities and perspectives on education policy.

Our delegation was in the nation’s capital to participate in National PTA’s annual Legislative Conference (LegCon). In the weeks leading up to this event, our team had prepared extensively under Federal Legislative Committee Chair Susan Baird-Joshi’s leadership. This meant coordinating with congressional offices in D.C. to set up meetings for our team, conducting research, and aligning our legislative priorities with National PTA’s priorities for the 118th United States Congress. WSPTA members in attendance included: Angela Steck, Nancy Chamberlain, Michelle Nims, Heather Gillette, Gwen Loosmore, Danica Noble, and Nigar Suleman (Acting Federal Legislative Committee Chair in Susan’s absence).

Our legislative asks were focused on five focus areas highlighted by National PTA: Digital Safety, Family Engagement, Funding for Essential Programs (Appropriations), Gun Violence Prevention, and Welcoming and Inclusive Schools.

Our group navigated the halls of Congress and met with congressional aides from Washington state representatives. We met with the education aides of Representatives Kim Schrier (WA-08), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), and Adam Smith (WA-09), with each of our delegation sharing a public policy priority that aligned with National PTA’s legislative asks.

Representative Suzan DelBene (WA-01) took time to meet us outside the House Ways and Means Committee room where she was about to attend a markup meeting. We also met with Senator Patty Murray’s aide Abby Laver who took time to hear our legislative pitch and asked us to brief her on updates from Washington. Abby shared Senator Murray’s current legislative work on building career & technical education (CTE) for 11th and 12th graders. She also shared helpful information about the American Rescue Plan — Homeless Children and Youth (ARP-HCY) funds, which expire later this year, that could help our districts.

While we didn’t have a meeting scheduled with Senator Maria Cantwell, we stopped by her office to introduce ourselves as WSPTA representatives and thank her for keeping child online safety measures on track for passage in the Senate as chair of the Senate Commerce Committee.

Notes on individual meetings

Representative Kim Schrier’s office

The meeting with Representative Schrier’s staffer Emilee Milborn went well and our group was able to use our time efficiently to cover issues that Rep. Schrier has been engaging with. We had preplanned the meeting flow with each of us covering a specific NPTA priority that coincided with Rep Schrier’s Legislative engagements in the House. Emilee was engaged and courteous while she listened to our personal stories as they aligned with NPTA’s legislative asks. As a highlight, WSPTA advocates Danica Noble and Gwen Loosmore drew from their individual stories and harnessed data to discuss the topic of gun violence prevention. An interesting aside, we also learned about the history of a lovely leather chair in the meeting room; it was about a century old and only five exist in various offices on Capitol Hill.

Representative Schrier sits on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, so we are eager to follow up with her in the future about the Farm Bill. We also want to find out more about her “yes” vote on the TikTok ban that passed the House on March 13 and open a dialogue on the digital safety of children and youth online.

Representative Suzan DelBene’s office

We met with Representative DelBene’s staff member Alyssa Quinn, a graduate of Issaquah High School, who covers education. As mentioned, we also had a short meeting with the representative in the hallway outside her meeting. Rep. DelBene has been a PTA member in the past and has been often asked to speak at schools.

For digital safety, Rep. DelBene thinks we need a comprehensive privacy bill, but there are bipartisan challenges and a lack of consensus among House members. Some legislators are apprehensive to work on federal legislation that might interfere with or override protections that have already been enacted at the state government level.

On gun violence prevention, Rep. DelBene expressed the need to keep pushing for safeguards, not just in schools, but beyond that within communities as well. She said states should continue to provide protective laws while federal initiatives remain in progress. She agreed with Gwen Loosmore on the importance of safe storage and shared that we need greater accountability. Rep. DelBene confirmed that reauthorization of the SUPPORTS Act has been passed by the House but certain provisions such as those found in the proposed RISE from Trauma Act were not included. The SUPPORTS Act is now in the Senate.

Rep DelBene has signed on to the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) but shared that it may be harder to garner additional funding. This was our only meeting where we met with a member of Congress and, even though it was conducted in the hallway, we felt seen, heard, and appreciated by Rep. DelBene and her staff.

Representative Pramila Jayapal’s office

We met with Michael Bauduy, Rep. Jayapal’s senior legislative assistant. The meeting was shorter than some of the others; the representative’s staff are very specialized so Michael could only really share his perspective on education policy in general. The meeting also occurred in the hall outside the office, as it was extremely crowded that day.

We shared our pitch about gun violence protection and safe storage of firearms. This included student perspectives on gun violence and how, when we meet with students, this is often the first thing they share. The students feel that we have failed them when it comes to passing critical laws on gun violence prevention. We also expressed support for an online privacy bill and noted that introducing bills on that topic is an excellent way to drum up important conversations. On the topic of IDEA, Michael said Representative Jayapal is supportive of full funding.

Senator Patty Murray’s Office

Our meeting with Senator Murray’s aide Abby Laver was fruitful and productive. Our group had shrunk since we had decided to divide and conquer due to conflicting meeting times and long distances between the House and Senate. Abby had set aside thirty minutes for our meeting but we covered our agenda fairly quickly because, by then, we had practiced our asks a few times.

We began with an appreciation by Heather Gillette and led into a compelling and urgent personal story on gun violence shared by Danica Noble. Our WSPTA president Angela Steck made one of NPTA’s key asks on gun violence prevention when she asked that Senator Murray cosponsor S. 3369, the GOSAFE Act. Our next ask was for the senator to help get S. 1418, the bill on digital safety, to the Senate floor for a vote.

Abby then turned it over to us and asked about the state of education in Washington state, in particular about academic recovery post-Covid. We discussed recent legislation from Olympia, including the dual- and tribal-language education bill that has since been signed into law by Washington Governor Jay Inslee. Danica Noble updated Abby on special education funding, efforts to hire additional paraeducators, and how declining enrollment puts the existing funding model at risk.

As a social-emotional learning (SEL) advocate, I shared that National PTA has made an explicit ask to to incorporate SEL and make it an integral part of K-12 learning, supported by federal funding, as an upstream measure to address the youth mental crisis. I also emphasized the need to support more robust youth mental health, as this is directly tied to the achievement gap, and received a positive response from Abby.

Abby shared the senator’s current work toward providing CTE and other career-related opportunities to 11th and 12 graders. She also noted that funds tied to the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) will expire soon and that there is currently an extension in effect. She provided resources we could pass on to schools that may not have used the ARP HCY funds. Abby also shared that Safer Schools funding is expiring soon and only half have been awarded so far. We made specific funding asks for IDEA and Title 1 Schools.

Representative Adam Smith’s office

WSPTA advocates Nancy Chamberlain and Gwen Loosmore met with Thomas Mayo, staff to Representative Adam Smith. Gwen, who is one of Rep. Smith’s constituents, provided her gun violence prevention presentation and asked about safe storage, to which Thomas responded that Rep. Smith is very interested in the topic. He invited WSPTA members to flag any safe storage bills for him, should any be introduced in the House.

When asked about digital security, Thomas agreed there should be a federal bill to avoid the patchwork of different laws in place, similar to what Rep. Del Bene said. In response to our funding asks Thomas said that Rep. Smith usually signs onto the Dear Colleague letters that circulate with the IDEA and Title I funding requests. Thomas also shared Rep. Smith’s relevant legislative interests: Post-secondary access and wrap-around services, workforce development, and pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship issues.

Category: Advocacy , Legislative , Special Education

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