Classified School Employees Make Their Case in Congress

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Leading activists among school support staff nationwide added a new twist to their yearly Capitol Hill visits earlier this month when they met in Washington, D.C., for the ninth annual legislative conference of the American Association of Classified School Employees.

This year, for the first time, about 30 paraprofessionals, custodians and other school employees visited with members of key budget, appropriations and education committees, in addition to their own members of Congress.

"It is extremely important that we stick together with our brothers and sisters—teachers, firefighters and other public employees," says AACSE president George Williams, also president of the AFT-affiliated Madison County (Fla.) Education Association, noting that Congress has just slashed fiscal year 2011 funding and that more serious cuts are looming.

The point was to communicate to lawmakers in Washington—including freshmen elected last fall who don't necessarily understand how federal programs work—that children's education depends on support from every school employee, from the bus driver each morning to the after-school educator each evening.

Before their visits on April 14, AACSE members were briefed on the federal budget, special education and school meals. Their hope? That sometime in the near future, they will hear back from a Hill staffer who says, "Hey, my boss is drafting some legislation on school buses. Don't you people know something about that? Can you help us write it?"

After their visits, conducted mainly in four-person teams, the AACSE representatives reported success. For example, one group met with a Republican staffer whose boss sits on the House education committee; they enlightened him about the pitfalls of having for-profit vendors in schools. Another group met with a House Democratic staffer whose boss, also on the education committee, would like to relay the stories of classified school employees at a hearing. [Annette Licitra]

April 27, 2011