Legislative report submitted by UEA Policy Ambassador Victoria Mauro, science teacher at Northwest Middle School in Salt Lake City School District
This is my first year really being involved in the legislative session in a way that feels meaningful to me. Sure, I’ve been to the Hill before; I’ve brought students, joined UEA Educator Day on the Hill and marched with Utah teachers. But all those things still felt very removed from the people making policy decisions and passing education bills. Suffice to say, this year I was not yet feeling ready to contact my legislator. I wasn’t certain what to say, what to ask for, or if I even knew how to go about it. Instead, I took this time as a Policy Ambassador to study the legislative session and truly understand how educational policy gets made. My experience isn’t over yet, but I wanted to share some of my key learning moments.
1. Committee meetings are truly eye-opening. And recorded!
I can’t express how much I actually enjoyed listening to committee meetings (usually at 1.5 speed). This is where most of the major policy gets made. Whether an appropriations subcommittee or a committee on education, listening to these meetings is eye opening! You can gather key information on opposing positions, understand how bills are redrafted to address concerns, and get a good feel for the individuals we’ve elected to make policy decisions. I would highly encourage everyone to find at least one committee meeting they’re interested in and give it a listen.
2. We need more educator voices to be heard!
Powerful testimony at committee meetings can make a world of difference. I witnessed this first hand when survivors of sexual assault testified in support of adding consent curriculum to our health classes. Their stories convinced many lawmakers to vote that bill out of committee. Unfortunately, commentary on legislation often comes from interest groups that don’t necessarily represent educators’ perspectives. The more educator voices that lawmakers hear, the better the legislation will represent our needs!
3. We know more than our representatives do.
Legislators do a great job knowing a little bit about a lot of things, but it’s impossible for them to know about everything! So just in case you were still feeling unsure about being involved, remember that we are the expert voices for our profession! Just to illustrate this point, as I was listening to a committee meeting, I heard a lawmaker ask how ELL students are identified. This is something that educators can speak to, and our answer will provide an important perspective about the bill being discussed.
Though many of these take-aways are focused on committees (since that’s what I found most fascinating), they can be applied to nearly every part of the legislative process. Floor time in the House and Senate are also recorded. Your voice and perspective are always important. Whenever you get a chance, share them. It sometimes feels like we only have power over decisions made in our classrooms, but I urge you to look at the legislative session as an opportunity to understand the decisions made outside your classroom and how you might be able to influence them. Then perhaps next year you – like me – will be ready to take the next step in making change happen.