School officials traveled to Washington last week
Grady County Board of Education member Teresa Gee Harris and School Superintendent Dr. Kermit Gilliard were among over 800 public school advocates from across the country who gathered in Washington, D.C. last week for the National School Boards Association Equity Symposium and Advocacy Institute.
Harris and Gilliard took part in programming sessions, panel presentations, and breakout sessions covering critical issues affecting public education.
Attendees were also coached and prepared to meet with members of Congress and lobby them on behalf of public education in their respective states.
Featured speakers during the conference included former school board members Sen. John Boozman, Sen. Deb Fischer and Rep. Terri A. Sewell. National Public Radio and ABC News political commentator Cokie Roberts wrapped up the second day with her political insights and timeless stories.
On Tuesday, Feb. 6 attendees had an opportunity to meet with their Congressional representatives to champion the interests of the local public schools on behalf of the approximately 50 million school children who attend them.
Harris and Gilliard met with Sen. Johnny Isakson and Sen. David Perdue Tuesday morning. The local education officials had been selected as part of a group of five delegates from Georgia to speak with federal lawmakers about the lack of broadband service to Georgia’s 108 rural school districts.
The school board member and superintendent also discussed with Georgia’s two senators the need to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
According to Dr. Gilliard, the House of Representatives has already approved the reauthorization of CTE, but the Senate has yet to vote. The Grady County School Superintendent also urged the senators to back full funding for IDEA. Gilliard said that in 1975 when the law was passed, Congress was to fund 40 percent of the cost of special education with the state funding 40 percent and the local school systems picking up the remaining 20 percent. However, Dr. Gilliard says the federal government has never funded their portion leaving the states and local systems to fully fund special education.
Both of Georgia’s senators pledged to work to increase funding for special education on the federal level. Currently, the federal funding totals 15 percent, which is down from 18 percent several years ago.
Tuesday afternoon, the local delegation met with Congressman Sanford Bishop. As the ranking member of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, Rep. Bishop said he understood the disadvantages of the Broadband issue and pledged to work to address that issue.
Harris and Gilliard also shared with the veteran Democratic lawmaker the plans for agriculture students to grow and produce cane syrup in the near future making Cairo High School students true Syrupmakers.
During the one-day Equity Symposium,attendees focused on building the capacity, knowledge, and skills of school board members around issues of access, equity, and diversity in public education. Topics covered included: mental healthcare for students of color, including trauma sensitivity; parental & community engagement, an inclusive approach; supporting immigrant students; and the impact of Pre-K gaps on high school graduation gaps.