I have heard the ads, haven’t you? Yes, it’s time to start the back-to-school shopping. At least so say the marketers.
That also means it’s time to start thinking about school field trips. One of the issues with field trips is even if the school permits them there is the cost of the bus. Here we have a clear cut example of an advocacy “ask.” The history community can ask the legislature for money for a specific action – to defray the costs of busing students on field trips to historic sites.
In this blog, I wish to use as a case study, an action taken in New York State that can be replicated in other states and needs to be disseminated throughout State so historical organizations are aware of it.
The following excerpts come from an enewsletter from Erika Sanger, the full-time executive director of the Museum Association of New York (MANY)
I am pleased to share the news that on Wednesday June 20, 2018 the New York State Assembly passed A.3892A, the Museum Education Act (MEA). The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk where his signature would make it law.
Lesson #1 – It helps to have a full-time person dedicated to working for the museum community. The time and effort required to make legislation happen is extensive. In this case it took a few years for the proposed legislation to work its way through the channels of committee hearings and meetings. If you have a volunteer willing to be so dedicated that’s fine but in any event, it’s not something to undertake in your spare time.
Lesson #2 – MANY has retained the services of a lobbyist. The lobbyist doesn’t work fulltime for MANY, it simply is one client, but it does help to have someone who knows the ins and outs of the legislative process and the right people including the staff of the legislators.
In the New York legislature, this meant the Senate chair of the Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks & Recreation Committee, the Assembly chair of Tourism, Arts & Sports Committee, the Senate chair of the Education Committee, and the Assembly chair of the Assembly Education Committee.
Lesson #3 – Have a clear cut well thought out direct bill. The objective should be straight forward. Notice the bill simply doesn’t fund the project, it includes implementation and assigns responsibility for the implementation to one specific individual.
The MEA creates a mechanism to distribute critically needed program funds to New York’s cultural organizations who steward the state’s heritage regardless of budget size, geographic location, or content area. The bill directs the Commissioner of Education to establish and implement a program that will provide access to competitive funding for curriculum-based educational programming, including transportation of students to museums or museum staff to school classrooms and the production of exhibitions directly linked to state education standards.
Since the bill designates the Commissioner of Education as the responsible person, it is incumbent that the individual is not taken by surprise at being so designated! In other words, the preparation for the bill must include contacting and meeting with people other than the legislators who will actually vote on the bill. While that may seem obvious, it is vital to touch all the bases and work with, not simply inform them, of your goals. Erika Sanger needed to spend time with the State Education Department as well as various legislative committees for the bill to be passed.
“We are thrilled that the Assembly and Senate have passed the Museum Education Act as we work to expand access to education programs at museums in New York,” said State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia. “When funded, this bill will provide much-needed support to our world-class cultural institutions to improve programs for students and develop curricular aids for teachers that incorporate museums’ incredible collections and exhibitions. We look forward to working with our partners in the Legislature and Executive Branch to identify the funding so students can enjoy the unique learning experiences at New York’s museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and arts institutions.”
Lesson #4 – In New York State, the Education Department charters all these cultural institutions and not just historic ones. Depending on how your state is configured, it behooves a solely history organization to seek out potential allies.
This bill, sponsored in the New York State Assembly by Matthew Titone (D, Staten Island), was passed by the State Senate in April (S.1676A) through the tireless efforts of its long-time champion and sponsor Betty Little (R, Queensbury). “I am very proud to have sponsored the Museum Education Act and to see it pass both houses after many years of hard work.” Titone said. “Arts, culture, and education have always been priorities of mine, and this legislation helps foster them in a mutually supportive way to greatly benefit New York State’s children and students of all ages.
Lesson #5 – Identify the legislators who have an interest in the topic regardless of the where there district is. In this case, the sponsors ranged from Staten Island in southern New York to the North Country, one in New York City and one in a more rural area.
Funding for school field trips is a straightforward advocacy item. It took work, making a lot of contacts, and perseverance to make it happen. There is no way to tell at this point how it will work in the real world. The State Education needs to disseminate the message to the schools in the state that such funding is available. It needs to develop the procedures and guidelines for the distribution of funds. Finally, the schools need to actually apply for funds. The worst imaginable outcome would be for the funds to sit there idly as an untapped resource because schools in their infinite wisdom have decided that time outside the classroom is not educationally valuable. It detracts from the time available for reading instruction.
As a corollary to this funding, it behooves the historic sites to be familiar with the curriculum so as to best connect with it. As mentioned in the previous post on the Massachusetts History Alliance, the curriculum in that state is about to change. The process of the familiarization of schools with the resources in the history community and in the school curriculum by the history community are separate issues. Maybe there could be some advocacy to develop training programs to promote communication and familiarity between these two groups. But that’s another subject.
In the meantime, let us hope the new program is so popular it is oversubscribed so next year at the History Advocacy Day at the state capital, the new “ask” will be to increase the funding in the program.
What’s your state story for funding field trips?