Thursday, January 23, 2014

PTA: A History of Legislative Advocacy

During the early years in Washington State, PTAs helped donate money for electric lights for the schools, focused on the importance of hand washing before meals, initiated the “Summer Round-Up” to provide health screening and immunizations for school age children, and coined the term “preschool” and established pre-school local units to serve mothers of children not old enough to attend school.

In the post World War I period, problems in public education emerged including low teacher salaries, and lack of federal funds for education. As a result, Washington State PTA focused on securing more cooperation between the public school administrators, and the state and local PTAs.

Nearly every PTA across the state embarked on programs to feed and clothe children to keep them healthy and make it possible for them to stay in school during the Great Depression, establishing the beginning of the school lunch program that we know today.

Upon the legalization of liquor in 1933, the Washington State PTA helped establish laws prohibiting the possession and sale of liquor to minors, limiting the presence of minors in places where liquor was sold, and supporting tougher laws restricting drinking and driving.

During World War II, PTAs formed war emergency committees and joined with other civic, state and national groups to provide for common defense and speed the war effort. The call for women to join the workforce left many kids without care, so many PTA members volunteered at daycare centers for children of working mothers. Often PTAs helped establish these daycare centers in school buildings.

In the 1950s PTAs started hosting family fun nights, talent shows, carnivals, science fairs, school library projects, and recreational activities. During this time PTAs also focused on child safety issues, such as traffic and pedestrian safety.

During the 1960s, public kindergartens were at risk of elimination due to levy failures in major school districts across our state. Preschool PTAs pitched in and organized “emergency cooperative kindergartens” as well as supporting door-to-door campaigns in precincts that were low in favorable votes at the previous levy election. As a result, legislators passed into law tax-supported public kindergartens. Also in the 1960s, the Legislature passed the Driver’s Education Law.

In the 1970s, the WSPTA began supporting statewide advocacy programs of specific interest to its members. In 1987, three of those programs won the prestigious Presidential “C-Flag” award, as a recognition of being a national leader for outstanding contributions to the American spirit of volunteerism and community action.

More recent accomplishments of the Washington State PTA have included: passage of anti-bullying law, pesticide notification law, graduated driver’s license, education restructuring, simple majority for levy elections, and defining basic education.

As we reflect on what the Washington State PTA has accomplished over the past 100+ years, we know that we are better off because of it and we are grateful for the strong leaders who have stood before us, but we also know our work as child advocates will never be complete. It is our privilege and responsibility to be strong as we continue to advocate now and in the future for the funding of public education, and securing laws to protect the safety and well-being of children. Thank you for your volunteer commitment to this organization and to the children in Washington State.