On the Hill: Milken Educators Meet with CongressApril 6, 2018
At the 2018 Milken Educator Awards Forum in Washington, D.C., this year's Milken Educators met with elected officials to talk about important issues in education. We asked how those conversations went and what might come out of them in the future.
Brooke Powers (KY '17): I met with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in his office. We discussed the importance of fully funding education in Kentucky, the need to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, and several other issues including pension reform and Social Security rules affecting teachers. I also sat down with Max Richards, one of his education policy advisors, to talk about providing career paths for teachers who want to stay in the classroom. After that I visited with U.S. Representative Andy Barr; we also talked about funding education and career paths. Congressman Barr was very interested in some the projects in Lexington that are important to me, including our math and reading clinic and summer STEM camp. This experience has propelled me to begin thinking about getting involved in politics in the near future. Educators need stronger voices in Kentucky. Why not me?
Paula Franklin (TN '17): U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, one of the featured speakers at the reception, talked with both Katherine Watkins (TN '17) and me about growing up in Maryville, and he mentioned us in his remarks. One of his educational policy staffers gave us his card and encouraged us to reach out. (Alexander chairs the Senate HELP Committee; other members who participated in the Congressional Reception include Senators Michael Bennet, Mike Enzi, Richard Burr and Lisa Murkowski.)
Valerie Baalerud (AK '17): I was fortunate to have my entire congressional delegation attend. With U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski I talked about the STOP School Violence Act, of which she is a co-sponsor. She listened in detail to my concerns and shared her own, and we talked at length about how this bill might be implemented in Alaska versus in other places. She then suggested putting together a panel of teachers and other stakeholders to look at implementing it. U.S. Representative Don Young and I discussed mutual interests in the Alaska outdoors, our past connections with military service, and how much has changed since Congressman Young was a teacher many years ago.
Finally, U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan showed up with his intern—Ally Webb, my former student! I could not have been happier to see her nor more proud of her success. Senator Sullivan spoke at length about his connection with the National Archives and talked with Mike and Lowell Milken about a possible field trip to the Archives during a future Forum.
Jordan McGaughey (MO '17): Angie Besendorfer (MO '96) and I spoke with U.S. Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer about various education policy topics affecting Missouri at the moment, most notably school safety and the mental health of students. He wants to stay in contact to allow for open dialogue on upcoming educational policy votes; I told him that, as a member of our state’s Teacher Advisory Board, I would keep him updated on new progress made by Missouri DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education).
Ken Kang (HI '17): U.S. Senator Brian Schatz joined us on his way to a session. Senator Mazie Hirono and I discussed our teacher shortage, especially in the vocational, career and technical areas, and how to work with our local university to support the ESSA plan for “highly qualified teachers”—we have many educators teaching outside of their areas of expertise. Lowell Milken and I folded origami cranes with Senator Hirono to commemorate the Hiroshima Memorial in Japan.
Dale Adamson (FL '17): U.S. Representative Carlos Curbelo had visited my classroom in February to congratulate me, but it was very brief. At the Congressional Reception we were able to establish more of a relationship. With the Parkland shooting fresh in our minds, we spent most of our time talking about school violence. I felt that he was genuinely interested in hearing my thoughts, and he extended an offer to reach out in the future as needed. This experience was all about making connections and forging relationships with people in positions to effect change. Nothing will have a more powerful impact on education than the strengthening of direct lines of communication between practitioners and elected officials.
Meghan LeFevers (NC '17): I spoke with Christopher Toppings, legislative director for U.S. Senator Richard Burr, who authored important legislation on ABLE accounts, which help students with disabilities save money without impeding the services they receive. After the Forum I traveled back to Washington with a group of students from my school. We were able to visit Senator Burr’s office and ask lots of questions.
Tami Lunsford (DE '17): I met with both U.S. senators from my state, Tom Carper and Chris Coons. I had a follow-up meeting with Senator Coons’ office about his teacher leadership bill; they want me involved in future discussions, and possibly briefings as well. They are going to visit my classroom sometime this year.
Melanie Cole (PA '17): I talked with U.S. Representative Mike Kelly about our current school programs and set up a time for him to visit our life skills room. It’s a great connection—he invited me to reach out to him if there was anything I needed, and I will contact him about a transportation budget grant for our community-based vocational training program.
Heidi Albin (KS '17): I got to meet U.S. Representative Ron Estes and his wife, Susan Oliver. We mostly talked about their life and family, and I enjoyed getting to know them and creating a contact for future endeavors.
Joni Readout (IA '17): I met with Iowa’s two senators, Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst. Senator Ernst has teamed up with a Senator from Delaware for a bill on teacher leadership. Both senators congratulated me and expressed their appreciation for the work we do as teachers.
Dawn McLain (AR '17): U.S. Representative French Hill and I talked a lot about the career tech path, because college isn’t for every student. I also met with U.S. Senator John Boozman, who was interested in the new programs we have started at our school. His office gave my husband and me a tour of the Capitol.
Andria Lindsey (OR '17): U.S. Representative Greg Walden and I discussed the benefits of the International Baccalaureate program I coordinate, as well as career technical education and how important it is to give our students multiple opportunities. We also talked about school violence. I have invited him to visit my school in the future.
Neal Cronkite (MI '17): I met with Dominic Restuccia, legislative assistant for U.S. Representative Mike Bishop. We had a productive conversation about making education a priority in policy and budget discussions. I also invited Congressman Bishop to my school. Even though he couldn’t make it to the reception, I now have an “in” with his office to keep the conversation going.
Lauren Hopkins (RI '17): I met with U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse. They complimented the innovative work we do at Coventry High School, and we discussed the need for multiple pathways for student learning across Rhode Island.
Shannon Hill (WY '17): Both U.S. senators from Wyoming, John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, have ties to our little town of Thermopolis, and they both commented on how good the education is here and praised my innovative physical education program. U.S. Representative Liz Cheney couldn’t attend the reception, but she called me afterwards and wants to visit my classroom soon.
Aaron Ferguson (CA '17): I met with U.S. Representative Julia Brownley, who already knew about the Academy of Business and the amazing things my students accomplish. I hope she will be able to visit our campus and meet my students soon.
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