Policy Matters Blog

Brunch with a Legislator: Creative Engagement with Policymakers

Members of MASP and GrASP pose with legislators attending their annual Brunch with a Legislator event.

(from left to right) Ms. Jamie Powers, President, UMSL Graduate Association of School Psychologists; Mr. Jay Reese, Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education; Senator Jamilah Nasheed, 5th District, St. Louis; Representative Tracy McCreery, 88th District, St. Louis County; Mr. Mike Jones and Dr. Vic Lenz, Missouri Board of Education; and Ms. Katya Sussman, Missouri Association of School Psychologists. Picture by Michael Butler, College of Education.

Over the past three years, the expert panel has included:

·         Senator Jill Schupp, 24th District, St. Louis County

·         Senator Jamilah Nasheed, 5th District, St. Louis

·         Representative Tracy McCreery, 88th District, St. Louis County

·         Representative Cora Faith Walker, 74th District, St. Louis County

·         Dr. Vic Lenz and Mr. Mike Jones, Missouri Board of Education

·         Mr. Jay Reese, Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

·         Ms. Jacqueline A. Hudson, Director of Advocacy for the St. Louis Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness

This past year, legislators were asked a variety of questions ranging from school safety to school choice. On the topic of improving school-based mental health services, Senator Nasheed noted this was a significant need in the State, though funding for school mental health services has repeatedly been cut by the legislature. Echoing Senator Nasheed, Dr. Lenz reiterated the need and noted past efforts by the Board of Education to require more mental health services into the Missouri school rules and regulations, though funding has consistently been the limitation. Representative McCreery urged the public to have more open conversations about this topic because failing to do so inadvertently promotes a stigma for those with mental health problems. Mr. Jones joined Senator Nasheed in calling for a national health care system that includes mental health services.

On the topic of grade retention, Mr. Reese began the conversation by stating that if a student fails then it is an adult problem. Opposed to retention, Mr. Reese urged schools to develop strategic plans to focus on repeated assessments to evaluate interventions used with students who have academic underachievement. Senator Nasheed and Dr. Lenz emphasized a need for early intervention, noting that students who cannot read by the third grade may never catch up and become grade-level readers. Mr. Jones offered a provocative idea he called functional obsolescence. He noted the lack of utility and outdated nature of the structure of education, which was designed in a 19th century agricultural society. He challenged the group to think differently about 21st century American education that could better address the academic needs of all students.

The first Brunch with a Legislator was hosted by GrASP on April 23, 2016. Spanning these three years, more than 70 UMSL students, staff, faculty, and local St. Louis educators have participated in the event. With each year comes new challenges and topics that Panel Members are able to address. For instance, last year, one of the major topics included school choice legislation and dyslexia; however, this year, much of the national spotlight has focused on school safety and trauma, with the unfortunate events that occurred in Florida this Valentine's Day. No matter what the "hot topic" happens to be next year when GrASP and MASP co-host the fourth annual Brunch with a Legislator, you can be sure that the discussion with our local legislators will be just as important and as engaging as it has been the previous three years.

NASP encourages school psychologists and state associations to creatively engage policymakers at all different levels of government. Events like MASP's create a greater understanding of the policy problems that school psych's face and forge relationships and partnerships that could pay off in the future. MASP brilliantly brought together state and local officials for their event.

Here are some resources and opportunities that may be helpful to you and your state as you advocate:

·         Tips for Becoming an Effective Advocate: How to Educate Lawmakers

·         Tips for Effective Advocacy: School Boards

·         Connect with your State Association 

·         Inaugural SPAW Virtual Hill Day

Congratulations to the Missouri Association of School Psychologists (MASP) and the University of Missouri - St. Louis Graduate Association of School Psychologists (GrASP) for another successful event!