National PTA Joins Campaign To Fight Cuts
Washington--Opposing the policies of an incumbent President for the first time in its 85-year history, the National Congress of Parents and Teachers (National pta) last week joined the effort of other education groups to fight against the Reagan Administration's fiscal 1983 education budget.
Representatives of local parent/teacher associations from around the country, holding their annual four-day legislative conference here, spent much of their time on Capitol Hill, conveying their displeasure with cuts in education spending to members of Congress.
"With six million grassroots members, this is an organization that Congress wants to hear from and can't ignore," said Mary Ann Leveridge of East Bernard, Tex., the association's president.
Mrs. Leveridge said she believes the efforts by members of her group, unlike the lobbying of other education associations, will make a difference.
"My experience through the years is that parents always have better luck because we have no vested interest in education dollars," she said.
"The way parents approach lobbying--it's not sophisticated--it's the best way to lobby.
"We try to be positive in our criticism instead of negative," she added. "We would like to see funding that the Congress has set up for special categories of children continue. We have lots of members who are Reagan supporters, but they're also opposed to budget cuts against children. People do want the economy to get back in order, but they also want priorities. Education should be one of those," she said.
"Our Reagan supporters are like the Reagan supporters in the Congress," said Ronald Smith, the National pta's executive director. "Now that you've heard [Republican Senators] Pete Domenici [of New Mexico] and Bob Dole [of Kansas] saying the cuts aren't going to make it, you know the budget cuts are wrong," he said.
Mr. Smith said he believed the President would respect the positions of the National pta because "we are the country's largest organization made up of volunteers, a concept the President wholeheartedly supports. And the pta is an important institution in this country," he said, pointing out that the association is celebrating its 85th anniversary this year.
He acknowledged, however, that the association and the President hold opposite positions on one important issue, tuition tax credits. In one of the conference's sessions, Gary L. Jones, an Education Department deputy undersecretary and a member of the Administration's working group on the tax-credit idea, told the association members that a tax-credit proposal would be sent to the Congress in about two months.
Mr. Smith countered that the National pta remains so strongly against the proposal that a former association president, Grace Baisinger, is the chairman of the Coalition for Public Education, a lobbying group fighting tuition tax credits.
In spite of differences with the President over that issue, the association met with Nancy Reagan, the First Lady, to discuss a project of mutual interest: the prevention of alcohol and drug abuse.
Mrs. Reagan told the group that "the power and prestige of the pta could do so much to combat drug abuse among our young people," adding that she would offer the association's effort her "personal support.''
Carlton Turner, the Administration's adviser for drug policy, added that the Administration would be setting up a drug-abuse prevention program that focused on "the family unit, the best defense against drug abuse." He urged the members to "work with parents, school administrators, and principals to get an anti-drug parent group formed in every school in the country."
Ms. Leveridge pointed out that the National pta already has begun a campaign against drug abuse. The most recent issue of the association magazine, P.T.A. Today, features articles about pta-sponsored drug-abuse prevention programs in school systems around the country, she said.
"Our local associations are supporting a great variety of programs--testifying in favor of laws that deal with the availability of drugs and drug paraphernalia, conducting parent-education programs in the local communities," said Ms. Leveridge.
"On the national level, we're giving long-range, full-blown support to the program, but the key will be the involvement of parents with kids on the local level," she said.