NORMAN — Norman parents interested in taking a stand on education policy in Oklahoma have a new resource in the Parents Legislative Action Committee, whose first Norman meeting was Thursday evening at the Nancy O’Brian Performing Arts Center.
Originally launched by parents of Jenks Public Schools concerned about downward trends in funding and policy, PLAC is slowly gaining ground as a statewide movement generating public school parents’ direct advocacy to legislators.
“The neat thing about PLAC is that it provides an opportunity to be on the front end of the discussion, instead of asking questions at the school retrospectively. Parents can provide input before a law gets passed and affects their local school,” said Melissa Abdo, Tulsa PLAC coordinator. “When a parent takes time out of their day to contact a legislator or visit the Capitol, it makes a difference — these people aren’t lobbyists, they’re people who deal with the kids on the receiving end of these policies.”
Approximately 80 parents, teachers and administrators attended the inaugural Norman PLAC meeting and were presented a comprehensive summary of Oklahoma’s shrinking education budget and concerning legislation currently under consideration at the Capitol provided by Megan Benn, outreach coordinator for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, and Ryan Owens, general counsel director of legislative services for the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration.
“When you look at what schools have been going through over the past few years with all the different areas that are hurting, it’s scary and hard to see how they’ve been doing it lately,” Benn said. “I really do believe that our legislators and governor understand that our schools are facing hard times right now and they need and want to hear from parents right now. It’s the time to let them know what you’re concerned about or experiencing.”
Owens provided a rundown of education bills that have raised alarm at CCOSA, pointing out wording or foreseeable outcomes that would be problematic for the state’s districts and emphasizing the time to act is now.
“We’ve just hit the halfway point of the legislative session. We’re getting closer to the end, which means the tempo speeds up,” Owens said. “Since the moratorium on accreditation standards, your schools don’t have to meet class-size requirements, they don’t have to buy library books, and a lot of districts are using money from the state intended for textbook purchases to pay for staff because they’ve been cut and cut and cut.
“It’s very disheartening when you see what we’re having to wipe away as far as effective strategies.”
According to Abdo, PLAC is not intended to interfere with pre-existing advocacy efforts going on through local Parent Teacher Associations or similar groups — rather, it’s an off-shoot.
“When I talk to people at schools, I say that if there’s a PTA, PLAC can be a springboard. These groups don’t have to have the name; it’s really more a movement encouraging parents to have a voice at the Capitol,” Abdo said.
For more information, email Merideth Exline at firstname.lastname@example.org or Benn at email@example.com. PLAC is on Facebook at facebook.com/