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Anyone Want to Go to Washington, DC?

by Christiana Succar,
Florida Council of Teachers of English
May 2009 SLATE Update

It was a beautiful crisp spring day as the sun rose over the U.S. Capitol. Once again the English teachers of America would be traipsing between the House and Senate buildings discussing national education policy. Will our comprehensive literacy bill pass? Will our resolution to recognize October 20, 2009, as the National Writing Day be entertained? None of us were really sure, but we all knew one thing, that we all stand behind NCTE’s Literacy Education Advocacy Day and are willing to come from all over the United States in the din of the night to wake bleary-eyed to make our way up the Hill to ask our senators and congresspersons: Will you cosponsor this bill to help our children succeed in their education?

As we began to trickle into the Capitol Visitor Center it became clear that government was at work. Many different associations were meeting just like NCTE to discuss legislative initiatives. As we took our seats in the conference room in the basement of the Capitol, we were armed with what would be our mission for the next seven hours. For the first three, we were briefed on the status of NCTE’s 2008 and 2009 legislative platform and goals.

Last year’s Striving Readers Act is still funded, but it is a very small program, only encompassing eight grants. The Early Reader’s bill is current, but only encompasses K-12. So today’s task was to "ask" that our representatives cosponsor NCTE’s birth to twelfth grade comprehensive literacy bill and support us in our October 20, 2009, National Writing Day resolution. Seems quite easy doesn’t it? Well, don’t forget who we are dealing with. . . that’s right, politicians!

So after hours of discussions and presentations from NCTE Executive Director Kent Williamson, NCTE Washington Office Director Barbara Cambridge, Congresswoman Dina Titus from Nevada, and chief educational counsel Bethany Little, we were well versed in the purpose of the two "asks."

(left to right, above: FCTE's Clarissa West-White, April Blaze, Joan Kaywell; Clint Cates, legislative aide to Senator Bill Nelson; FCTE's Christiana Succar, Susan Houser, and Kathleen Blake Yancey)

The six of us from Florida, plus one who taught at a Florida university but lived in Georgia, had a quick lunch in the Capitol’s cafeteria as we strategized how we were going to conduct our group meetings with Senators Bill Nelson and Mel Martinez’s aides and how we would go it alone with our local representatives. It all seemed rather easy until I was appointed to discuss the comprehensive literacy bill in the two Senate meetings.

When 1:30 rolled around the Florida NCTE delegation met with Senator Nelson’s legislative aide. With Joan Kaywell from Tampa by my side, I explained the content of the bill and our position. With Joan’s go-forth manner, we all succeeded in getting our point across and provided real life examples of how the bill and resolution would truly benefit Florida and our school districts. Legislative aide Bill Couch responded positively to both proposals and not only listened to all of our stories about our students' needs, but told us about the importance of writing well and how literacy affects his daily work. 

Then we were off to Senator Martinez’s office to meet his aide Vennia Francois. For most of us this was our second meeting with Ms. Francois, so out with the niceties and directly to the point! She listened patiently to Kathleen Blake Yancey from Tallahassee and the rest of our Florida delegation as we reasoned why the National Writing Day resolution and the comprehensive literacy bill would not only benefit our students, but would leave a lasting record for the Senator on education. The aide responded positively to both; however, she did not promise the Senator’s sponsorship to either initiative. So the question remained: Will Senator Martinez leave a positive legacy for education after he leaves the Senate in 2010?

Finally, I was off to meet Congressman Vern Buchanan’s legislative assistant Max Goodman. Despite my trepidations, the meeting went extremely well and may result in the Congressman visiting my school after the spring legislative session. The meeting was brief, but Mr. Goodman sounded very responsive to both requests. He stated that the Congressman would likely cosponsor the National Writing Day resolution and be interested in learning more about the comprehensive literacy bill when it is introduced in Congress. So, as it goes, this was just another day out of the classroom for a Florida public school teacher!

 

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A Professional Association of Educators in English Studies, Literacy, and Language Arts