my travels to Harrisburg~Basic Education Funding Reform Commission Hearing

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I have discovered that my real passion is systems advocacy. That is, trying to make the laws, programs, systems and funding better for our kids. I will say, that for right now, for me to be able to do this is a luxury. And what I mean by that is, my own personal situation is very stable right now. I want you to know that I know that this is a luxury. It won’t always be that way, and I’ve had my own IEP struggles and situations. But right now things are going well for us. My son’s IEP and placement is working for him and he is making progress. We have been through years-long periods of regression and I know how stressful that is. I also am very fortunate in that he is very healthy and that I am able to focus on his education and development. I just want to acknowledge that I know that there are families out there who read my blog and think, “Yeah, great, I’d love to do lobbying trips…if only we could get out of the hospital/get seizures under control/stop this regression/get time off work.” I also feel, since I do have the situational ability to do this, that I must. Because you cannot. While you are working on your personal struggles with your child, know that you still have someone speaking for you.

So last Wednesday, I got a personal email from one of the State Senator’s admins about the Basic Education Funding Reform Commission hearing. That was on Thursday. Gah! I just haven’t been paying much attention to the state issues, I was distracted by my DC lobbying trip and snowstorms and my kid’s birthday and my own son’s IEP meeting. And to be honest, after this legislation failed last year after the PA Charter Schools changed the conversation, I was burned out on this issue. I immediately asked when the next one is, I didn’t think there was any way I could make it. She said that after Thursday, there was just one left….in Pittsburgh. Argh. They may as well have held it in Erie….Pittsburgh is at least 6 hours’ drive for me.

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I really, really, REALLY wanted to go. Here’s a little backstory. A couple of years ago I was invited to speak at a similar hearing. I had several weeks’ notice so I was able to present some absolutely FABULOUS testimony. I was told I’d have ten minutes, so that is what I prepared for. I got there in plenty of time, had my boys with me and was all ready to go. I was even on the official agenda. When it was our turn, I sat at the table and two other moms were ahead of me. And then the bottom fell out for me. The first mom was really nervous and didn’t appear to have much prepared….so she just rambled. On and on and on. Said a whole ‘lotta nothing for what seemed like hours. They finally had to interrupt her. But she cut into my time and I was notified that I could submit my testimony in writing, but that I would only have a few minutes to speak. I wasn’t ready to ad lib. I had carefully constructed my testimony so that one paragraph led to the next. If I were to just cross some off, the whole thing wouldn’t make sense. I was crushed. I mumbled a few sentences, I don’t even remember what I said. I honestly lost sleep over that moment. I was so excited to participate and then not be able to say what I wanted….it seriously nagged at me ever since.

So I was determined to make it to Harrisburg last Thursday. I called in favors from friends, reserved a train ticket and made it happen.

And then I went back to that previous testimony. When I confirmed with Senator Browne’s people that I’d be attending, she said that I would have three minutes. Oops. The previous version was planned for ten. Oh boy.

I spent all of Wednesday afternoon reworking the testimony and I got it down to between three and four minutes. That would have to do and I would just hope that I wouldn’t get cut off.

Because this was last minute and various other reasons, my scheduling was tight. I was scheduled to speak at 1:10. My train arrived at the station at 12:40 and Google Maps told me it was a 12-minute walk. Not a ton of wiggle room! At the Parkesburg station, the train was 5-7 minutes late getting there. STRESS! And then we were stopping in Middletown and they announced another 5 minute delay. MORE STRESS! A nice young man on the train said he was going to a building near mine and that he also had to be there at 1:00, I could walk/jog with him. And jog we did. (Note to self: get your 40-something butt back into shape, woman!) I got to the building, made it through security and into the hearing at just about 1:00.

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I was mildly intimidated because this was a real hearing room. The other one was at a college, just in like a regular room with tables and not nearly so intimidating.

Thankfully I had time to regroup. I saw and heard who was speaking and it was my friend Joan Duvall-Flynn from the NAACP. It was comforting not only to hear her voice, but because I could place exactly where we were on the agenda. As it turned out, I had more than an hour to regroup. The woman ahead of me actually brought 3 people up with her and some of them were rambling. Seriously, again? I was not going to let this happen again. I came here with something to say dammit, and I was going to say it.

Finally, it was my turn. I said what I came to say and took 5 minutes. I was a little miffed that they ended quite abruptly after I ended, but not taking it personally. They were hungry.

Anyway…here is my testimony. Here is the link to the video. Since I came at the end of a very long four hours, you can fast forward to 225:40 and then I start, in the pink shirt. If you want to hear my friend Joan, she’s at around 160.

You can also read the written testimony.
Basic Education Funding Commission March 12 Lisa Lightner

I had a message, I just wanted to be heard. Hopefully they heard.

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