When it comes to parent engagement, shouldn't we be breaking down barriers, not building them?

I'm often asked why parents need to be aware of pending legislation and education policy issues when it often appears that it never impacts them or their families. Certainly at times in politics many pieces of legislation are proposed only to never make it out of committee. Some reappear year after year until the time is right and the political climate or reform momentum takes hold and then they are passed into law. 

Currently there are several pieces of legislation concerning education that are gaining traction in Kentucky and all will have a direct impact on the students and families of our state. 

One piece of legislation is House Bill 89 relating to school councils (also known as SBDMs: School Based Decision Making). SBDMs were created under KERA (KRS 160.345). These councils consisting of parents, teachers, and the school principal, are charged with the responsibility to create a school environment that supports student achievement and learning. Parents are elected by other parents and usually serve either a 1-year or 2-year term. Certainly some schools have an abundance of parents who step up to serve, while others struggle to find parents willing to make the commitment. Once elected, there is extensive training on policy issues, how to run a meeting, and on understanding a budget. 

HB 89 "calls for limiting the participation of parents serving on the school based councils by requiring at least one parent residing within the boundaries of the school district to serve on the council." Kentucky PTA recently sent out an action alert on this stating that "We feel this is an unfair disadvantage to parents whose children are lawfully enrolled in a school. Once a student is registered in a school then the parent/guardian should have all the rights as any other parent, including the parents’ right to run for school council."

I certainly write enough about how essential strong partnerships between families and schools are to student success. Parents are one of the major stakeholders in our schools. Some schools often struggle to find one or two parents interested in serving-and other schools actually have six or more willing to step up. But despite these facts (whether a few or many sign up to serve) we keep hearing that "parents aren't engaged enough in education." We have countless webinars, meetings, websites dedicated to increasing parent engagement. So why create a barrier to the very engagement that so many schools are struggling to obtain?

In fact, the parents I know who have served on their school's SBDM take their volunteer job very seriously. They question, they collaborate, they communicate, they commit to a process in which they (and others) believe will benefit the entire school community. Certainly there isn't any glory in this volunteer service. Training is extensive and it is a huge time commitment. And those parents who serve, despite frustrations with process and policy, often go on to encourage and recruit other parents to step up, thus creating a larger pool of families who feel connected and informed about curriculum, student success plans, professional development and so forth. By creating legislation that says a parent can't serve even though their child attends the school, you end up sending a message that parents are only partners in education under "certain circumstances" which are determined by zip code or county. In addition, what message do you send a child when you deny their parent a chance to participate in their education?

So today, you can call the Kentucky Legislative Message Line at 1-800-372-7181. It takes less than five minutes to make a call. In fact, all you have to say is: "Please vote no on HB 89. Let's take down barriers to parent engagement rather than building them. Thank you."

I don't believe the sponsors of this bill intended to create this barrier. In fact, they may think this process will increase parent engagement in education. But intentions and actual practice often become disconnected from one another, especially in the legislative process. And finally, it is important that we are proactive and participate in the process of policy creation, after all, we are our child's first and most valuable teacher. Let's teach our children that their needs come first, not politics. 

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