Advocacy and Policy Summit, June 2016

Lila Birchfield, Secondary Education SIG Chair

The three-day long summit was held June 19 – 21 at the Embassy Suites in Alexandria, VA. We were joined by Maria Alanis from Unit 4 Champaign, Illinois and Jacqueline Cunningham from Harold Washington College/City Colleges of Chicago, who spoke on behalf of K-12 ELs and higher education ELs respectively.

A few weeks before our arrival in D.C., we contacted our Illinois Representatives as well as Senator Kirk’s and Senator Durbin’s office for appointments.  The first two days of the summit were devoted to learning about legislation, TESOL’s position, as well as training for our visits to Capitol Hill on June 21. 

 After opening remarks by John Segota, TESOL International President, we spent the first day being briefed on “talking points” for the Capitol Hill visits.  Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical and Adult Education, gave an informative update on the Workforce Innovative Opportunity Act (WIOA), which had been signed into law July 22, 2014. WIOA is of particular interest for instructors working with community college adult English Language students.  WIOA mandates math and civics instruction for adult English Learners (EL) and career pathways through workforce training.  Colleges are evaluated on their students’ performance in terms of program completion, certificates earned, and employment. 

In order to better prepare us for our meetings, all sides of an issue were presented.   Margie McHugh, Migration Policy Institute, addressed WIOA’s threats to services for adult ELs.  She pointed out that WIOA emphasizes employment goals and earning statistics for adult ELs, but that it is risky from a funding viewpoint for colleges to educate those students who do not have employment as a target goal.  Immigrants with very limited education, stay-at-home parents of young children, and older immigrants may not want workforce training.  Rather, they simply want English language education to meet their social needs.  As a result of WIOA, many family literacy programs do not receive funding at the same level as workforce training.  Ms. McHugh stated that family literacy programs are not as valued as much as WIOA.

In the current political climate, the facts about DACA and DAPA were of great interest to all the participants at the Advocacy & Policy Summit.    Cesar Moreno Perez of the American Federation of Teachers explained the two programs to the group.  Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a program for children who were brought to this country before January 1, 2010.  About 1.2 million children/young adults qualify for DACA. In 2014, President Obama added Expanded DACA which covers another 270,000 immigrants who were brought to this country at age sixteen or younger.  DAPA is the Deferred Action of Parents of Americans.  In order to qualify for this program, a parent must have an American- born child and be a green card holder.  There are approximately 4 million eligible immigrants who fit the criteria for DAPA.

Mr. Moreno Perez pointed out that (between the two programs) 5, 670,000 immigrants can potentially receive work authorization, obtain a social security number, a state-issued driver’s license, travel to their home country, and live free of the threat of deportation.  6, 000,000 other immigrants do not qualify for DACA, Expanded DACA or DAPA.  These programs are an executive action by President Obama and, as such, are not law.  At the time of the summit, there was an injunction against the Expanded DACA and DAPA, effectively halting its implementation.  On June 23, 2016, the Supreme Court, in a 4-4 ruling, upheld the injunction against the November 2014 Expanded DACA and DAPA.   The original June 2012 DACA is not affected by the ruling.

A third area of interest for those who teach in the Pre-K -12 system was the successor to NCLB, entitled Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  Ellen Fern of Washington Partners detailed the major components of ESSA.   In an attempt to reduce the amount of educational time spent on testing, accountability for student performance now falls at the state and local level. Individual states can decide which tests to use to measure student progress and how often.   By the 2017-2018 academic year, school districts must identify schools for targeted support.  They have an additional year to identify and put in place support systems for schools that are consistently low-performing in their district.  The exciting part of ESSA is the requirement that there is consultation among all constituents who have a stake in making sure students reach Title 1 goals.  Parents, out-of-school providers, and local governing bodies such as park districts and libraries all need to come to the table for meaningful input. 

With our training behind us, we made our way to Capitol Hill on June 21.  Sylvia Rivera, Maria Alanis, Jacqueline Cunningham, and I went as a team to the offices of Senator Kirk and Senator Durbin.   We each represented a different level of education and came prepared to express a concern relevant to our teaching situation.  At our preliminary meetings, we had been cautioned that we would probably meet with the congressmen’s legislative assistants rather than the congressmen. We spoke with Natalia Odebralski (Legislative Assistant for Senator Kirk) and Brad Middleton (Legislative Assistant for Senator Durbin).  Maria Alanis invited the senators to visit Champaign District 4’s dual language programs, which now include French as well as Spanish.  Sylvia Rivera discussed the need for more ELL training for classroom teachers as the number of ELs entering Illinois classrooms increases.  Jacqueline Cunningham spoke about the specific educational needs of higher level ELs.   My talking point was the emphasis placed on WIOA outcomes and the loss of literacy programs for Adult ELs at the community college level.  The Legislative Assistants asked us questions, took notes, and expressed a desire to keep in contact with us.

TESOL Advocacy & Policy Summit is an exceptional professional development opportunity for educators in Illinois.  If advocacy is one of your tenets as an ELL/Bilingual teacher, register for next year’s event.  You will be briefed by political insiders and educational leaders at the national level on legislation that impacts you and your students. At the networking lunch, you and like-minded colleagues have the opportunity to share issues and ideas.  The Advocacy & Policy Summit will empower you with the knowledge to advocate for your students.
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