The PTA is no longer a "cupcakes and carnivals" organization. With 6.5 million members nationwide, it is a vital advocate for children's issues that affect the entire nation.
Janet C. Alley, PTA national vice president for leadership services, told delegates to the Utah Congress of PTA Friday that they cannot afford to be involved in issues that only affect their children or their schools.Alley, Chester, Va., was keynote speaker for the Utah convention, which will continue through Saturday in the Salt Palace. More than 1,700 delegates will vote for new state officers and consider several resolutions, including sex education, equality of educational opportunity, and addressing text book and supply shortages in Utah schools.
Noting that today's children are tomorrow's adults, Alley said, "What we do to them and for them will determine how they function."
PTA is reaching out to those who are underrepresented in the system, she said, with the objective of keeping the nation strong.
She cited statistics as a base for the importance of speaking for those who have no voice in government:
-One of four children lives at or below the poverty level; among Hispanic groups, 40 percent are in this category, and among blacks, 43 percent.
-Ten percent of children are handicapped.
-Thirteen percent of America's 18-to-19-year-old females have children.
-One million teenagers become pregnant each year, many under 15 years of age.
-Every day 40 teenagers give birth to their third child.
The national representative outlined many helps that are available to local PTAs in addressing particular needs.
She said demographics in the United States are changing in ways that will affect child advocacy. Only 75 percent of the country's taxpayers now have children in schools and the percentage is dropping. That has implications for bonding, generating taxes for school uses and mustering support for programs.
"We need to let people know what's good in education to sustain their support," she said.
Great opportunities today are disguised as insoluble problems, Alley said. But, "there is no such thing as an insoluble task for PTA."
Earlier Friday, Utah Gov. Norm Bangerter commended the PTA representatives for their spirit of voluntarism. Parental involvement contributes to a child's success in school and beyond, he said.
"Education is without question my top priority. It's the force that drives all else that's good," the governor said.
The governor also showed statistics showing Utah does well in national comparisons of education, despite the state's economic challenges. The statistics, taken from U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett's famed "wall chart," show Utahns leading the country in the number of adults with post-high school education.
Utah students score above national averages on ACT tests, even though a greater percentage of the Utah students take the test, a fact that could dilute the results.
Other indicators of excellence include high involvement in advanced placement classes (triple the national average), a higher graduation rate, and greater number of high school students with aspirations for advanced education.
Bangerter defended teacher salaries, indicating that if teachers were paid 12 months of the year, their average salaries would be comparable with workers in several other fields. Teacher salaries have increased at a rate greater than in some other professions, while in the trades and industries in Utah salaries have actually declined, he said.
"I wish we could pay them more," Bangerter said, "they are doing a wonderful job."
The governor predicted significant reforms in education over the next few years and called for a positive attitude on the part of Utahns about what is happening to education in the state. "The last three years have not been business as usual in education," he said, "but too few people know that."