Magazine article Insight on the News

Don't Fault the 'T' in the Nation's PTAs

Magazine article Insight on the News

Don't Fault the 'T' in the Nation's PTAs

Article excerpt

Charlene K. Haar clearly shows she does not understand the National PTA. Here are the facts: Haar implies that the National PTA and the National Education Association, or NEA, are similar types of organizations in terms of membership, funding and mission. The fact is that the NEA is a union, designed to work on behalf of the economic self-interest of its members, whereas the National PTA is a grassroots, volunteer, private, nonprofit organization with an annual budget of less than $6 million. Our 6.7 million members work on behalf of the best interests of all children on issues that affect their health, education and welfare.

Haar alleges that National PTA policies reflect the influence of the NEA. However, since a majority of the board must approve every national position statement and resolution adopted by our organization, it would be nearly impossible for the NEA or other teachers unions to affect the outcome of the vote. It is not true, as is sometimes alleged, that National PTA policies are adopted automatically as state and local PTA policies. No state is compelled to adopt, in part or in entirety, any national position statement or resolution. Each state PTA office is separately incorporated and is autonomous. For example, local PTA President Kay Wall in Greenwich, Conn., is working within her chapter to restore high academic standards even though she views her work as a challenge to a PTA position.

In fact, at its most recent meeting in January, the National PTA created a position statement that reads in part, "Challenging and precise standards must be developed which objectively measure achievement in academic areas, not just minimal standards that reduce student achievement to the lowest common denominator, but standards to achieve at the highest levels possible."

According to Haar, the National PTA's recommendation for local PTAs to remain neutral during a strike makes the organization subservient to unions. Neutrality and independence, however, give PTA its greatest strengths during a strike. PTA offers a forum for public debate of the issues dividing school boards and teachers. When public debate is not forthcoming, PTA members become legislative activists. In December 1994, the PTA council in Anchorage, Alaska, resolved "actively to seek and support changes to state legislation and regulations which allow for public disclosure and a reasonable time for public comment on all issues being considered between the bargaining group and school board."

The federal government recognizes us as a reliable and unbiased source of ideas about ways to improve the relationship between school boards and unions. On Jan. 10, I testified before a special committee of the Labor Department on ways to improve labor-management relations in public education. Our opinion was sought because our members represent the "customers" -- children and parents -- in the education market.

Additionally, state PTAs are free to adopt their own policies regarding strikes. To quote from the Jan. 12 edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer, "Gathering membership among teachers can be difficult because the PTA and teachers sometimes are on opposite sides of issues.... For instance, the Ohio PTA is against teacher strikes. `The PTA's major concern is the child, and there are times that the PTA's concern takes precedence over what other employee groups might see as a priority,' said Lois Benjamin, president of the Valley Area PTA Council!"

Does the National PTA defer to teachers for fear of losing their membership dues? Clearly not. The 75 cents the National PTA collects from each member does not begin to cover the broad array of services, programs, awards and publications the PTA produces. Instead, we look to cooperative agreements with other child-advocacy organizations, corporate contributors and private foundations to provide the balance of our budgetary requirements. Without their generous financial support and in-kind contributions of supplies, services and expertise, we would not be so successful in meeting our members' needs. …

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