Arcadia Unified Continues Decades-Long Advocacy for Fair Funding from the State
By AUSD Digital Communications Intern Chloe Wong
Arcadia Unified School District’s delegates visit the California State Capitol for the 2023 PTA Legislation Conference.
A dozen delegates from the Arcadia Unified School District traveled to Sacramento for the California State Parent-Teacher Association’s (PTA) annual Legislation Conference. This conference enables public education advocates from across the state to meet, network, and discuss the key issues faced by public education, such as funding for mental health resources and arts programs, continued cuts to school budgets, and more. It also serves as a time for delegates to advocate for the needs of their district’s and the state’s students, educators, and school staff.
With numerous California school districts in attendance, Arcadia Unified brought one of the largest and most varied delegations to the conference. Arcadia’s advocates included local PTA leaders, school district administrators, and three Arcadia High School juniors. While Arcadia Unified has consistently sent representatives to this conference for the last 20 years, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this year marked the first in-person PTA Legislation Conference in several years.
“[This conference] educates all the PTAs throughout the state of California about what bills or what policies they’re endorsing or supporting or advocating for in that year,” explained April Verlato, who serves as Vice President of Legislation for the Arcadia Council PTA.
For reference, PTA operates at the national, state, and local levels. California’s PTA program has a membership base that is divided into districts based on geographic location. For example, Arcadia Unified falls under the First District PTA, which represents just over 20 school districts near and around the San Gabriel Valley area.
Arcadia Unified has made it a point to routinely send representatives to this conference in a show of support through advocacy for fair and adequate funding to ensure its ability to provide its students, staff, and schools with the important and necessary resources they need. While delegates may be tasked with supporting or opposing different issues from year to year based on whatever legislation is pending or in the works at that time, Dr. Jorge Munoz, an Assistant Principal at Arcadia High School, noted how crucial it is for Arcadia representatives to attend this state PTA Legislation Conference.
“The more any citizen talks to their local lawmaker, the more the lawmaker is in touch with their constituency,” said Dr. Munoz. “It’s important for [Arcadia delegates] to show up, and let [legislators] know what’s important to us.”
In addition to its variety of voices and perspectives, the size of Arcadia Unified’s group of delegates also aims to send a message, according to Verlato.
“It helps to send a message to our legislators that our public schools are important,” said Verlato. “We’re dedicated, we’re committed, and we’re willing to make the sacrifice to go up to Sacramento.”
Arcadia’s 12-member delegation consisted of PTA leaders, Arcadia High School students, and Arcadia Unified employees.
The conference’s two-day schedule was packed from morning to night. The first day featured a plethora of guest speakers, Q&A sessions, and panel discussions. California State PTA President Carol Green began the morning with a welcome introduction, discussing the importance of ordinary citizens coming together to advocate for the children of California. President Green was followed by California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who underscored how education was his gateway out of poverty and that state legislation should always keep students’ welfare in mind.
Informational panels through the conference included background on and implementation for AB 988 (an act that established a suicide and mental health hotline, 988, in California). Speakers on “Early Childhood and K12 Mental Health,” which included school psychologist Dr. Maureen Schroeder, stressed the need for accessible mental health resources, particularly after the pandemic. Panels regarding educational advocacy and Governor Gavin Newsom’s January Budget Proposal closed out the day.
The second and final day of the conference saw opening remarks by Assemblymember Mia Bonta, Assemblymember Alex Lee, and Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi. Conference attendees were then given the chance to meet privately with their respective elected officials. In these meetings, legislators were able to engage directly with their constituents, while constituents expressed their education-related causes, wishes, and concerns.
Arcadia delegates had the opportunity to meet with State Senator Susan Rubio (D-49), State Senator Anthony Portantino (D-25), and Assemblyman Mike Fong (AD-49). During these meetings, Arcadia’s representatives advocated for a variety of educational causes. Arcadia High’s student delegates, Isaac Offstein, Joya Sarkar, and Chloe Wong, were the primary voices in each meeting, where they shared their asks on three important issues: funding for the inclusion of new ethnic studies courses in California schools, mental health resources, and the retention of funding for arts and music programs, respectively.
AUSD and First District delegates meeting with Senator Anthony Portantino (second row center).
“It’s important for the lawmakers to speak with the students,” said Dr. Munoz. He noted that students bring a unique perspective to these meetings since they are directly affected by state legislative action.
“I think that the legislators know that [students] are their next round of voters,” said Verlato. “When they see voters coming up to Sacramento—and these are 17-year-olds—they know within a year, these are going to be voters.”
Student delegate Joya Sarkar shared what it was like to advocate in Sacramento.
“I really enjoyed getting to meet our legislators,” said Sarkar. “During the Conference, I realized how important it is to share your personal story when you’re advocating for certain bills or pieces of legislation. Politicians are more likely to listen when you tug a little bit at their heartstrings."
As for the continued importance of attending this Legislation Conference, Verlato shared her “why” behind her PTA involvement and attending this event.
“Education is a key,” said Verlato “It’s a key to opportunities, it’s a key to financial stability, it’s a key to reducing crime. There [are] so many benefits from a well-educated community.” Verlato affirmed that Arcadia will continue its decades’ long annual trek to Sacramento for this California State PTA Legislation Conference, emphasizing that becoming an advocate is the best way to create positive change.
“My goal is to try to get as many parents as possible from each [Arcadia Unified] school to go,” she said in regard to future Legislation Conferences. “To get involved, and to speak up, and to communicate with our legislators. [Lawmakers] want to help—but they need to hear from us.”
For more information about the Arcadia Unified School District, visit www.ausd.net.