TESOL Lobbies Capitol Hill for Adult ESL (July 2009)

On June 24, 2009, 22 TESOL members representing 18 U.S.-based affiliates met in Washington, D.C., to lobby for adult English as a second language (ESL) on TESOL Advocacy Day 2009. Featuring issue briefings and workshop, the event was capped by visits to U.S. Congress. By the end of the day, TESOL members had visited the offices of more than 70 representatives and senators.

Responding to recent Congressional action, TESOL Advocacy Day 2009 focused on adult ESL and the efforts to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA). The primary federal funding vehicle for adult ESL in the United States, WIA is several years overdue for legislative renewal, or reauthorization. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representative have held hearings on this legislation in recent months, giving the indication that Congress may move forward on reauthorization this year.

Following a successful meeting on TESOL Advocacy Day, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) arranged a visit to an ESL program in Boulder, CO. Pictured from l-r are Colorado TESOL Board members Tamara Milbourn, Liz Henry, Erin Kimmel, Rep. Jared Polis, and Colorado TESOL President, Bruce Rogers.

The goals of TESOL Advocacy Day were not only to lobby on key issues for TESOL, but also to provide an interactive learning experience for affiliate representatives on elements of advocacy. To maximize the impact of TESOL Advocacy Day, key members of Congress serving on the education and appropriations committees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives were targeted for meetings. Each TESOL affiliate representative was required to complete several tasks in advance of the day, such as setting up individual meetings with their Congressional representatives. To assist with this, the TESOL Central Office provided directions and guidance, as well as the list of specific representatives and senators to contact. Participants were also sent talking points and background information on WIA and adult ESL so that they could begin to familiarize themselves with the issues in advance, and were also encouraged to find examples from their own programs to illustrate the talking points.

Marc Cummings of KYTESOL (r) meets with Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY). Rep. Guthrie was later a co-sponsor of Hr. Res. 707, which designated the week of October 18, 2009 as Adult Education & Family Literacy Week.

TESOL Advocacy Day commenced with a welcome from TESOL President Mark Algren, joined by TESOL President-Elect Brock Brady. The morning workshop was led by John Segota, Director of Advocacy and Professional Relations, and representatives from Washington Partners, LLC, TESOL’s legislative consulting firm. The workshop included two briefings: the first featured Congressional staffers discussing the “the view from Capitol Hill” on WIA reauthorization and the key issues under debate; the second featured representatives from the National Coalition for Literacy, the Center for Law and Social Policy, and the National Council of State Directors of Adult Education all discussing their activities and perspectives on the reauthorization.

Following these briefings, participants took part in an interactive workshop on how to have an effective meeting with one’s congressional representative. Participants were provided key information to prepare for their meetings and given the opportunity to role play.

"All three components of the morning program were vital,” explained Erin Sebilius, one of the representatives from Caroline TESOL. “The briefing with Congressional staffers was both very interesting and extremely helpful in terms of the 'insider' perspective they offered, the second briefing with the representatives from the other adult education organizations provided us with critical background information for the meetings with our representatives, and the interactive workshop taught us how to go out there and do it!"

Following a luncheon, the group went to Capitol Hill for the meetings they had set up in advance. Each participant had 3–4 meetings with their representatives and senators. A few affiliates sent more than one participant, so a few representatives went as teams to their meetings. Of the 22 affiliate representatives, there was a mix of both veteran advocates and people brand new advocacy. Overall, all of the participants agreed this event was a very positive experience for them and for TESOL.

"TESOL Advocacy Day was so cool!” exclaimed Lisa Ireland of California TESOL. “To say that I really enjoyed the experience is an understatement. It was terrific to have the experience of meeting my representatives and see first-hand what a difference I can make. Participating was a life changing experience in that it re-affirmed my desire to advocate and to continue to contact my representatives, and to remain politically involved."

If you are interested in learning more about your Congressional representatives and the legislative issues TESOL is tracking go the TESOL U.S. Advocacy Action Center athttp://capwiz.com/tesol.

The following is a list of affiliate representatives who participated in TESOL Advocacy Day 2009:

Affiliate

Representative(s)

Arizona TESOL Paula Schlusberg
Carolina TESOL Erin Sebelius, Wendy Griffin
CATESOL Lisa Ireland
ConnTESOL Christie Ward
COTESOL Elizabeth Henry
Illinois TESOL*BE Betsy Kubota
KYTESOL Marc Cummings
MATSOL  Rob Vitello
MDTESOL Joy Owens
NJTESOL-BE Marilyn Pongracz
NYSTESOL Cornelia  Randolph
Ohio TESOL Christina Theuerling
PennTESOL-East Anne Shoemaker
TexTESOL II Nancy Dunlap
VATESOL  Denise Ricks
WAESOL Naomi Elliott, Nicole Diimmel
WATESOL  Mark Bruns, Bryan Woerner, Caralyn Bushey
WVTESOL  Shalom Tazewell
More Resources:
  • Standard Bearer: Proposed Quality Indicators for Adult Education ESOL Programs
  • TESOL Letter in Response to Change in Naturalization Test Redesign Process (May 2005; PDF)
  • Naturalization Test Redesign Overview (June 2005; PDF)
  • Federal Education Update, September 2, 2005
  • Position Statement on Immigration Reform in the United States (June 2006; 69 KB PDF)