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State PTA is teaching members political savvy

They are still plenty interested in money.

But leaders of the Florida Parent Teacher Association, hoping to move away from an image of bake sales and car washes, spent hours Friday teaching members about political savvy.

"PTA is no longer a fund-raising organization," said Susie Morgan, third vice president of the Pinellas County Council. "We need to look at legislative issues pertinent to children. We are an advocacy organization."

About 1,000 members showed up for the Florida PTA Leadership Conference, which concludes today. The conference, held at Innisbrook Hilton Resort, includes workshops on school tutoring, family involvement in education and membership campaigns.

Alison Law, a PTA president from Gainesville, was inspired by a mock PTA convention session in which participants learned tactics to use at the organization's annual conference in Orlando this November.

The PTA's platform, which is sent to legislators, emerges from the annual convention.

"I hadn't planned on going before coming to this class," Law said. "There's a lot of problems and pressure building up, and I had no way to release it before I walked into this class."

Law likes the idea of her concerns being heard by legislators. The platform is constructed by proposals submitted by PTAs throughout the state.

But Latha Krishnaiyer, fourth vice president of the Florida PTA, warned against disappointment when presenting platform issues to lawmakers.

During a one-hour session on national PTA policy, Krishnaiyer led members through the official position on several issues.

The group opposes cuts in education funding, favors parental involvement in education, and opposes vouchers and immigration laws that deny any child access to public schools, she said. The PTA will also monitor the progress of welfare reform and will speak out against legislation that eliminates guaranteed assistance for poor children, she said.

"We ask if you do not support an issue that you remain silent on that issue," Krishnaiyer said.

State Commissioner of Education Frank Brogan, who spoke during Friday's luncheon, said he will push for lottery reform and more local autonomy. He said he is counting on support from the PTA.

"For a lot of years, PTA was really regarded as the group of people who sold cookies to raise money for schools," he said. The group, with 350,000 members in Florida, is now a formidable network.

"They're not afraid to take on the tough issues. They're not afraid to look at change," said Brogan, a PTA member.

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