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September 2009 Newsletter
YEOs Working for Education Reform
President Obama recently addressed the school children of our nation, urging them to take responsibility for their education and to stay in school. He encouraged them to find what they’re good at, and explained that what they make of their education not only determines what they make of their future, but also the future of America. Many children in our public school system are faced with incredible obstacles and hardships to overcome in order to succeed, but as President Obama poignantly explained, “Where you are right now doesn't have to determine where you'll end up. No one's written your destiny for you, because here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.”
Many of our young elected officials are dedicated to helping every student succeed in writing their own destiny, tirelessly working to reform broken education systems and creating the opportunity for every student in America to succeed.
New York City Councilman Eric Gioia is calling for publishers to start creating fewer editions for textbooks and proposes a textbook renting program for New York universities, where a student would rent a textbook for one semester at reduced cost and then return it to the school at the end of the semester. “Especially in difficult economic times, no students, no hardworking New Yorkers should have to make the choice between a working night shift and buying their college textbooks,” said Councilman Gioia.
Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue has signed into law a bill sponsored by State Representative Alisha Thomas-Morgan. This new law allows parents to send their children to any public school within their district, as long as there is room to teach new students. “The [law] really empowers parents to choose a school that is in the best interest of their child, not necessarily the best interest of their school district,” said Rep. Morgan.
Texas State Representative Joaquin Castro has sponsored a measure that will allow Texas military personnel, both U.S. citizens and legal residents, to be exempted from tuition and fees at public universities. "We do place a value on the service of individuals who have served very honorably from our state," said Rep. Castro.
Oregon State Representative Sara Gelser, as chairwoman of the Education Committee, is supporting a bill that will allow those who are unlawfully living in the United States to pay in-state tuition in Oregon, instead of steep non-resident tuition. "We can't be slamming the doors of opportunity to children who can contribute to our state," Rep. Gelser said.
New York State Senator Michael Frerichs has initiated legislation to remove a minimum age requirement for entering university. "Admissions officials should be able to make a decision on all those criteria rather than just a birth certificate," Sen. Frerichs said. "I just don't think it is right to discriminate based on age. Age is just a number." The bill unanimously passed the Senate and now goes to the state House of Representatives.
FYI- Education Opinion Pieces by YEOs
“Saving Arts Education from Politics” by New York State Senator Jose M. Serrano in the Gotham Gazette: Read More
“Public Schools Offer Choices for Progress” by South Carolina State Representative Anton Gunn in The Post and Courier: Read More“Parent Choice is Wave of Future” by Georgia State Representative Alisha Thomas Morgan in the Atlanta Journal Constitution: Read More
Back to School Perspectives –
Being elected while enrolled in school requires a unique juggling act. Below, young elected officials in this situation share how they balance elected office with student life, and how their educational experience has influenced their public work.
“It is difficult balancing a college life with a political life, but I am able to do it because of a very carefully crafted schedule. I also have to set aside time to be with friends and just live the college life in between meetings. I am involved in several activities on campus, which helps me get the college experience; as well as my many involvements in the community to enhance my political life.”
“Serving in an elected capacity while enrolled full-time in undergraduate studies has proven both a reward and a challenge. It is rewarding to be able to study public administration and political science in school, while serving as an elected school board member, because of the unique perspective I am able to bring to classroom discussions and the knowledge and understanding of our political systems to the Berne Union Board of Education. It has been difficult juggling the two roles, but the personal reward of an education and broader skill-set that I am able to bring to my position far outweighs the inconvenience caused with time management and scheduling while going to school and holding elected office. I space my classes far enough apart to get coursework and reading completed between classes, which frees up additional time in the evening to both work and attend board meetings. My car, e-mail account, and cell phone have become my satellite office, as I commute to school, perform my duties as a board member, and also work full-time. Realizing I cannot be everywhere all the time nor do everything I want to do, I prioritize what I can do and squeeze the most out of the time I have allotted myself to get things accomplished.”
“Education is one of the most important issues of today. As a councilwoman and doctoral student at Rutgers University, I am committed to learning and serving the communities I represent by addressing critical disparities in neighborhoods. My political and academic journey from the community to the classroom provides the foundation to explore public problems and solutions.”
Special Feature by a YEO
While most elected officials are invested in public education and want to pursue appropriate courses of action to better our schools, electeds with firsthand knowledge of the classroom provide a unique perspective. For two of our YEOs, North Carolina State Representative Tricia Cotham and Newark, Delaware City Councilman Ezra Temko, their experience in the school system gives them a point of view that helps them legislate with a passion and understanding that few others have.
Representative Tricia Cotham:
Many of my colleagues are retired educators. However, many retired years ago, and schools have greatly changed since their retirement. I believe that I bring a fresh, real-world perspective to the education committees and policy discussions. Prior to my arrival at the legislature, I believe my colleagues may have rubber-stamped all that the Education Department staff may have requested. I ask tough questions, I challenge their notions, and I stick up for teachers and our students.
Councilman Ezra Temko:
I think being in the education system has made the issue of education more complex to me. I also think there is a very strong human capital issue that is often not adequately discussed or addressed in the political realm. How can we begin to have a serious conversation about quality education when problem principals are simply transferred to a different school; or when students are placed in schools with undrinkable water, no air conditioning, insufficient resources such as desks and chairs for every student? If we cannot get to a base level of showing students we respect them and have high expectations for them, we cannot expect the achievement gap to close.
The first time I ran for office was fifth grade. There were three boys and no girls running to be the Student Council President of my elementary school in Los Angeles; I saw this as a grave injustice and stepped into the race. It was the first election I won and, looking back, I am amused by how seriously I took my role as a young public servant. I shared brief speeches, painstakingly written on index cards about school activities with the local board of education. I worked with other students to write a newsletter for our parents. I sought to engage and empower my peers, while demonstrating that we, as young people, genuinely cared about our school and our neighborhood. Little did I know that the index card speeches and letters home would be fertile ground on which to lay the foundation of my future political career...
...It was Rep. Weston who further nurtured my political aspirations, revealing to me my own potential: I already represented over half of the voters in the political district that encompassed the university as the Student Body President, I was fast becoming a respected member of the greater community, and I had worked to get policy on the table in the legislature without even being elected. When presented to me in this way, it made it slightly more plausible that, at age 22, I could successfully challenge entrenched incumbents for a seat in the Vermont House of Representatives.
Progressive Partner Highlight
The American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL) is a bipartisan non-profit organization that works with the U.S. Department of State to design and implement international bipartisan political exchanges with the goal of introducing promising young leaders to international affairs and to each other. Founded in 1966, ACYPL has 7,500 alumni around the globe and has conducted exchanges with over 100 countries. Each year, ACYPL sends 100 American young elected officials, public policy leaders, and government affairs professionals between the ages of 25-40 on fully funded exchanges to foreign countries and hosts reciprocal foreign delegations in the United States. ACYPL programs are designed to give young leaders around the world the opportunity to meet, discuss experiences in government, build friendships, and gain valuable international experience as they ascend in their careers.
Delegates for ACYPL programs are nominated by alumni of ACYPL programs, Governors, Members of Congress, and State Party Chairs, and are chosen to participate based on current professional achievement and potential for future leadership. Each delegation is deliberately chosen to represent a group that is diverse in political affiliation, geographical location, gender, ethnicity, and interests.
If you are interested or would like more information, please contact, Libby Rosenbaum, Director of Outreach, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-857-0999 x16.If you are an ACYPL alumnus and would like to provide a nomination for fellow YEOs who are interested in future ACYPL exchanges, please let the YEO Network staff know at email@example.com or (850) 877-0307.
Continuing YOUR Education
Several of our YEOs used their summer recesses to take summer school to a whole new level – expanding their knowledge and learning how to be more effective public servants. Below, previous YEO participants in Harvard’s Kennedy School Senior Executives in State and Local Government summer program talk about their experience:
“Sixty-nine professionals, representing over 1,000 years of experience, and I accounted for less than 1% of that! As a young elected official, attending the State and Local Government program at the Kennedy School was an amazing experience. The opportunity to think critically about my values and priorities, surrounded by such a wealth of experience was incredibly valuable. Our class represented much of the diversity of thought and background in America today, but instead of the division we see in our politics, we were able to build a sense of community out of the differences. As someone at the beginning of my journey in public service, my experience at Harvard will be one of those cornerstone experiences that I will return to when I'm challenged. These three weeks called on me to keep my feet firmly planted in my core values, while fighting for the kind of real change that our society needs."
“Harvard Kennedy School was really intense! The Senior Executives in State and Local Government leadership program stretched my mental ability and physical agility beyond my expectation. They pushed the boundaries of conditioned responses, and I was intriguingly challenged to the nth degree. This educational experience was very rewarding, and the program supplied me with innovative and solution-oriented methods for leading. It also allowed me to collaborate with outstanding nationwide officials who confront similar challenges and struggles while serving in public office.”
“The Kennedy School's Senior Executives in State Government program is one of the best opportunities for elected officials to learn from national negotiation experts, garner extraordinary leadership skills, and form lasting friendships with leaders around the country. The three weeks I spent at Harvard changed the way that I think, behave, and plan as a state leader. In particular, Marty Linsky's teachings on leadership shaped my new approach to public policy.”
"The leadership program allowed me to gain a candid and inside perspective on the experiences of elected officials and public sector executives from all across the country. As a young person, I was able to learn from others on their experiences both positive and negative."
Progressive Policy Corner
Reach Scholarship Program
Universal Pre-school in Oklahoma
YEO Network Recommends...
There are many books out there about progressive politics, and figuring out where to start on your book list can be a daunting task. The YEO Network has decided to scout out books we think you might be interested in, and provide you with a brief review. We hope you enjoy this month’s pick, and we always welcome feedback and suggestions. Happy reading!
We live in an age of fantasy, where the spectacles of Las Vegas, Grand Theft Auto, flashy advertising, and the cult of celebrity undoubtedly rein. Stephen Duncombe in his tome, Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy, argues that progressives should learn from these institutions and create “ethical spectacles” to get their message across more effectively. Explaining that progressives should build a politics that embrace the dreams of the people and fashion spectacles to give these fantasies form; however, these spectacles should never cover over or replace reality and truth but perform and amplify it.
Duncombe details throughout Dream, how Las Vegas, Grand Theft Auto, savvy advertising schemes, and celebrity culture can provide the models for understanding people’s dreams, learning to reach the public on a more personal level, and creating spectacles that work. He doesn’t ask readers to revere the values of these institutions or to even like what they are, but instead to understand what they can teach us about the realization of dreams and desires, and then to use those lessons to successfully put forward a progressive agenda. He provides real world examples, suggestions, and solutions – thus he doesn’t just talk about the need for progressives to change the way they promote their ideas, but explains how they can go about doing it.
Dream is a quirky and interesting book, and if you’re interested in organizing and progressive politics, this is definitely a book you should pick up.