Case Six: An Ohio Experience – Janet Laster and Sandy Laurenson
“Cheerleaders,” “coaches,” “prodders,” and ”handholders” might be words to describe Janet Laster and Sandy Laurenson as they helped colleagues, students, and friends come together and influence legislation that could shape family and consumer sciences education in Ohio high schools for years to come.
In March 2006, Governor Taft proposed graduation requirements known as the "Ohio Core." Identical bills were introduced in both the Senate (SB311) and House (HB565) in April 2006. These bills addressed Governor Taft’s “Ohio Core” plan to give “all high school students the academic foundation needed for success in an entry-level job, apprenticeship, the military or college.” The goal was to create a plan to require a more rigorous high school curricula for graduation.
In the education community, there was an initial sense that this proposal was going nowhere. Groups, such as fine arts, foreign language, and career-tech communities, interacted with legislators. However, it continued to appear that nothing would happen.
In mid-November, it became obvious that the proposal had moved from a sidetrack to the fast-track. Laurenson (2006) shared in an e-mail “My state representative, Brian Williams (former superintendent of Akron Public Schools and current member of the House Education Committee), has confirmed that these bills will be on a very fast track when the House and Senate reconvene after the elections in a lame duck session on November 14 and are expected to pass.” She goes on to say “I believe we must act and that we have a very short window. Legislators have heard nothing from FCS although they have been lobbied for months by the fine arts, foreign language, and career-tech communities. I think we must have a plan by the end of this week. We need support from our own members plus significant numbers of parents, current and former students, advisory committee members, FCCLA members, etc. Brian Williams also suggested that we arrange to testify before the Education Committee.”
Indeed the legislation had moved to the fast-track, and it was essential for the FCS community to get involved or live with what would be passed. Before Governor Taft left office at the end of 2006, the “Ohio Core” legislation had been signed and FCS added via amendments.
Within the FCS community, there were concerns about the legislation as it did not mention family and consumer sciences nor include family and consumer sciences as a provider of financial education. The concerns were two-fold. First, as proposed, all students would be required to take a social studies course in financial literacy. FCS was not identified as a provider. Second, family and consumer sciences was absent in the elective options identified.
In less than a month, the FCS community put strategy into action to amend Substitute Senate Bill 311 and Substitute House Bill 565 in two ways. First, include family and consumer sciences as a provider of the required financial literacy component and, second, to specifically identify family and consumer sciences as one of the elective options in both the Ohio Core graduation requirement and in the opt-out requirements.
After constant monitoring of what was happening, building strategy daily, communicating via e-mail, and calling upon members and friends to interact with members of the legislature, the FCS amendments were accepted.
Among the lessons these women have learned from their work are these:
- Pay attention to any legislation that is of interest.
Initially, the word was that this legislation was going nowhere. The FCS community had not spent time considering what might happen if there was a push to act upon the proposals. Laurenson had personal connections that informed her of the pending fast-action and she immediately informed the OAFCS Public Policy leader. Together they created a network of related organizations and interested individuals and continually engaged in strategy and action to bring about the envisioned legislative change.
- Identify go-to people focused on family and related issues.
Laster and Laurenson engaged FCS members in thinking about who were key people to contact and make the best use of available resources. They recognized the importance of working with both political parties and getting members from each side of the aisle knowledgeable about the need so they could introduce and support the two amendments. Laster and Laurenson sought out individuals who had been supporters in the past with a strong commitment to families, and they along with colleagues developed new friends who share mutual interests.
When considering who might testify before the education committee in each chamber, a variety of individuals were considered. It was desirable to include individuals who had experience in both large and small schools as well as urban and rural settings. Individuals who had professional experience, such as providing training for teachers, were considered. Students who had benefited from classroom and FCCLA learning were identified. An AAFCS board member articulated the value the national organization places on financial education via resolutions and public policy priorities.
- Be strategic.
Garner support from both individuals and groups. The following organizations
supported the efforts, articulated the need, and let people know they needed to
- OAFCS (Ohio Association of Family & Consumer Sciences)
- OATFACS (Ohio Association of Teachers of Family and Consumer Sciences)
- OASFACS (Ohio Association of Supervisors of Family and Consumer Sciences)
Messages such as the following (Laster, November 21, 2006) were sent via e-mail for input:
Do you have strong connections with any of the members of the Ohio Senate or House Education committees (list attached) and know that they are supportive of FCS? Or with any Senator? Representative? If so, please e-mail or call me ASAP. We need Education Committee members in both houses to co-sponsor our requested amendments.
Do you have connections with any "heavy-hitters" - well-connected and influential members of businesses, business organizations, or other networks that carry weight with legislators? Again, please let me know.
Create time to make calls or send faxes or e-mails. No excuses! This is a huge opportunity to make a real difference in the future of family and consumer sciences and the FCS students who benefit so greatly. If we all do our share in this effort now, family and consumer sciences has an excellent chance for future stability.
A sample letter (Laster, November 21, 2006) was shared electronically and people encouraged to send an e-mail letter to their elected representative or senator.
Dear Representative (last name) or Senator (last name):
I support changes made in Sub. HB 565(or Sub. SB 311) but would also like to see the following amendments:
1. Include family and consumer sciences (FCS) as a provider of the financial literacy component; and
2. Specifically identify family and consumer sciences as one of the elective options in both the Core Graduation and Op-out requirements.
Family and consumer sciences should be included as a provider of the financial literacy component because FCS teachers are licensed to teach financial literacy. Furthermore, they are uniquely qualified to engage students in the content because of their holistic perspective and family/consumer/employee focus. In FCS, financial literacy is currently taught in Resource Management, Life Planning, and Consumer Economics courses. Within these courses, financial literacy is taught along with the complexities and in the context of family life, such as how to resolve financial conflicts in families with varying financial resources. With financial literacy and conflict management skills, major causes of financial difficulties and divorce are more likely to be avoided in families and society. Family and consumer sciences should be one of the elective options in the Core Graduation and Op-out requirements for three reasons:
1. FCS courses, such as Nutrition and Wellness, Resource Management, Parenting and Child Development, Life Planning, Personal Development, and Family Relations, provide the life skills needed by all students: those who are college- and work-bound. Nowhere else in the required or elective subjects of the Core Graduation Requirements do students develop the life skills, knowledge, and ethics/social responsibility essential to their success and well-being in college, work, family, and community living. Each FCS course purposefully helps students develop their critical thinking/problem solving, interpersonal relationships, family and community leadership, and balancing work and family responsibilities skills.
2. FCS courses, such as Parenting and Child Development and Nutrition and Wellness, provide foundational knowledge for a range of college-based careers, such as teaching, medicine, and social work.
3. Even though FCS courses are currently offered as career-technical (CT) elective courses, FCS courses need to be visible as elective options because students, parents, guidance counselors, and school administrators may interpret the CT option only as workforce development courses/programs. Students need to have this valuable subject and its essential learnings as a Core Graduation Requirement option.
Technology offers rapid interactions and opportunity for continual updating. When Laster sought input on a specific need, such as persons who might testify before the Education Committees, an e-mail request brought responses from recipients. Updates could quickly be sent to the membership of different organizations. The bills were analyzed and comments added. This analysis was shared via e-mail and people had the same information. Drafts of briefing statements could be shared and reworked so that messages were crisp and focused.
- Keep written resources to the point and brief.
Throughout the process, resources were put in chart format, bulleted, or numbered so a reader could quickly determine what was happening and what they needed to do. The following is an e-mail message encouraging action.
ACTION NEEDED BY MONDAY, NOVEMBER 27 (the sooner, the better):
Contact your State Senator and Representative and Senate and House Education Committee members by phone, visit, or e-mail. (Contact information attached. If your time is limited, contact committee members whose names fall in the alphabet where your name falls to assure all are contacted.)
Refer to the appropriate bill: Substitute SB 311 (for the Senate); Substitute HB 565 (for the House of Representatives)
Ask FCS supporters (administrators, parents, students, former students, advisory committee members, community members who have provided service learning opportunities, etc.) to contact legislators. Provide basic information for them to use and personalize.
Ask legislators to:
- Include family and consumer sciences in the electives specified in the proposed graduation requirements in order to provide more flexibility and opportunities to assure a rigorous, well-rounded education that meets each student’s and society’s needs.
- Require 6 elective units to give students more opportunities to reach their full potential.
Support your request with reasons FCS is important content and provide examples drawn from your experience and context/perspective.
- Weather the crisis. Be persistent.
A December 15, 2006 newspaper article reported that Taft’s education bill lacked votes to pass and was pulled from the House calendar. Closed-door lobbying and deal making was underway at the state house. After all of the energy spent in working on this legislation, there was concern that nothing would happen. Calls and e-mails passed among FCS supporters. Eventually, the crisis subsided and enough votes were cast to pass the bill so it could go to the Governor for signature.
Something as mundane as being able to send e-mail messages to lengthy lists of recipients was a challenge at one time. The e-mail carrier would not allow over 20 recipients and this meant working with the carrier to get beyond this barrier.
- Thank participants.
Throughout the experience, Laster expressed appreciation for the work of each participant. Messages such as the following were shared:
Good Morning, Friends!
E-mails and phone calls were powerful advocacy tools this week! Thanks so much for e-mailing the members of the Education Committee! The e-mails are really making a big difference. We also appreciated hearing from the contacts that were made and the responses of the legislators. (Laster, November 30, 2006)
Thanks to everyone who testified and encouraged others to testify, sent e-mail to legislators and encouraged others to send e-mail to legislators and make phone calls, and made phone calls. Pat yourselves on the back: You were wonderful advocates who made a difference in the lives of students and their families for years to come. (Laster, December 08, 2006)
The bill was signed and became law. According to Laster (December 06, 2006), this was one important step in the process, and now teachers need to advocate for offering economics and financial literacy in their school districts. A collaborative effort between educators, business people, and key community leaders would be important to build strong, relevant, and useful financial literacy courses for the diverse student bodies in districts across Ohio. Helping school boards understand the value of financial education offered as an FCS course meeting a Core requirement means being involved, articulate, and engaged in building networks.