Illinois PTA Convention Preview—Resolutions

The 115th Annual Illinois PTA Convention will be held on April 7th and 8th at the Hilton—Naperville. Convention is a great opportunity to attend interesting workshops and network with other PTA leaders, but it is also the time that the Illinois PTA conducts its business. Part of that business is directing the legislative and advocacy activities of the Illinois PTA.

One of the ways that PTAs influence what the Illinois PTA advocates on is through resolutions. Resolutions can come from an individual PTA or from the Illinois PTA Legislative Policies committee. A resolution can call for legislation, direct the Illinois PTA to work with other organizations, provide information to local PTAs, or study a topic further and make recommendations. At this year’s convention, there are three resolutions for the membership to vote on addressing financial literacy, climate change, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Resolution on Financial Literacy

The Illinois Learning Standards for math touch briefly on financial literacy, requiring students to understand how pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollars work as money and as decimals for elementary students and to be able to calculate the effect of interest on money invested for a certain period of time for high school students. But the standards don’t address how to fill out a check, how credit card interest rates affect the cost of the things you buy, or whether you should buy a car by paying more money up front, taking a loan for three or five years, or leasing.

These issues are of increasing importance for our children as more and more students are graduating from college with more and more student loan debt. In fact, the total amount of student loan debt now exceeds the total amount of credit card debt in the United States. The Resolution on Financial Literacy addresses this issue through several actions:

  • That local PTAs and councils work with their school districts to incorporate financial literacy education into their curricula
  • That the Illinois PTA work with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to include financial literacy materials that meet the existing Illinois Learning Standards
  • That the Illinois PTA, local units, and councils work for legislation for programs that teach financial literacy.

Most of the concepts of financial literacy are based in math, and one of the most important ways to get students to take an interest in math is to show them how they can use it in real life. Thus, using financial literacy materials to teach math concepts can be accomplished within the existing Illinois Learning Standards. School districts just need to be willing to make the effort. In addition, many financial literacy materials already aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards are available, and programs from organizations like Junior Achievement can also play a role in developing financial literacy.

Resolution on Climate Change

The overwhelming majority of the scientific community agree that manmade climate change is occurring. Among the effects of climate change that have direct effects on Illinois are an increase in extreme weather events (e.g., tornadoes, droughts, and floods) and public health issues such as:

  • Increased respiratory ailments including asthma due to increased levels of pollen, mold, air pollution, and dust
  • Increased incidence of certain cancers due to higher levels of ultraviolet radiation
  • Increased foodborne diseases and nutritional deficiencies due to food contamination, shortages of staple foods, and the reduced nutritional value of food caused by rising carbon dioxide levels

The Resolution on Climate Change addresses this issue through a multi-pronged approach. These include:

  • The Illinois PTA providing information to local PTAs and councils regarding climate change and its effect on the health and welfare of children
  • The Illinois PTA, local PTAS, and councils encourage school districts to consider including renewable energy resources (e.g., geothermal heating and cooling, wind turbines) and green infrastructure (e.g., energy efficient windows, green roofs, permeable paving) when building or renovating school district facilities
  • The Illinois PTA work with other like-minded organizations on the issue of climate change and its effect on the environment and the health and welfare of children
  • The Illinois PTA, local units, and councils support legislation that regulates activities that contribute to adverse climate change, mitigates the negative effects of climate change, supports and encourages the use of renewable energy, and supports efforts to remediate the negative effects of climate change that have already occurred.

Resolution on Hydraulic Fracturing

Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, uses the injection of water and undisclosed chemicals into rock layers at high pressure to fracture the rocks, allowing oil and natural gas to be extracted more easily. The contaminated wastewater from this process is then injected back into the ground for disposal.

Research has connected hydraulic fracturing to a significant increase in earthquakes, unsafe levels of air pollution near fracking sites (resulting in asthma attacks, lung disease, dizziness and seizures, birth defects, blood disorders, and cancers, among other health effects), and contamination of groundwater. The latter is of particular concern in Illinois, where 35% of all residents, including 90% of all rural Illinois residents, rely on aquifers for their drinking water.

The Resolution on Hydraulic Fracturing addresses this issue through both education and legislation. The resolution calls on the Illinois PTA, local units, and councils to:

  • Share information on the health and safety concerns associated with hydraulic fracturing and wastewater disposal
  • Work with other like-minded organizations to raise awareness of these concerns
  • Support additional research on current and new methods of oil and gas extraction and their potential environmental effects by independent researchers not affiliated with the energy industry
  • Support state and federal legislation that addresses the environmental and health effects associated with hydraulic fracturing.

SB550 Becomes Law, Reducing Lead in School Drinking Water

sb550-fountain-signedSenate Bill 550 (SB550), the Preventing Lead in Drinking Water bill, was signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner on Monday, January 16, 2017. The bill has been a key focus for Illinois PTA advocacy this past year, and its passage is a win for the children of Illinois.

It is also a reminder that PTAs can have their biggest effect on the lives of children at their school when they advocate together for policy changes that benefit every child in Illinois or across the country. Illinois PTA thanks those who participated in the passage and signing of SB550 by contacting their legislators.

What SB550 Will Do

During the lame duck session of the Illinois General Assembly on January 9 and 10, 2017, SB550 was amended in the House before passage. Here is what the law will do for Illinois children.

  • School buildings built before 2000 that serve 10 or more children in grades pre-K through 5, whether public, private, charter, or nonpublic day or residential institutions, will need to test each source of potable water for lead. Those sources include taps, faucets, drinking fountains, and classroom wash basins as well as food preparation water sources, but janitorial sinks and basins are excluded.
  • The water to be tested is to be the first draw of water that has been standing in pipes for at least 8 hours but not more than 18 hours. If a sample exceeds 5 parts per billion (ppb), the school is to promptly notify parents and legal guardians of the location in the school where that sample was taken. Note that this level is below the US Environmental Protection Agency’s lead action level of 15ppb.
  • Schools built before 1987 are to conduct testing by December 31, 2017. Schools built from 1987 to 1999 are to be tested by December 31, 2018. The state will determine by June 30, 2019 if schools built from 2000 onward will need to conduct lead testing as well.
  • Licensed day care centers, day care homes, and group day care homes built before 2000 that serve children under the age of 6 will need to test drinking water for lead based on rules that will be in place by January 1, 2018. Those rules are to include testing requirements, training requirements, and notification of results.
  • Community water systems are to complete a comprehensive inventory of lead service lines in their system by April 15, 2018 and update that information annually. Such systems are also to notify potentially affected residences of construction or repair work on water mains, lead service lines, or water meters that could potentially increase lead levels in drinking water. Notification is not required if the inventory shows that the water system being worked on is lead-free.

Join the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network

This past fall, SB550 had passed the Senate but looked like it would die in the House. With Illinois PTA advocates meeting with legislators and staff during Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield in November and many more contacting representatives through our online campaign, the bill began to move during the veto session but did not pass. Our final campaign over the holidays to push SB550 through the house during the lame duck session in January helped get the bill finally passed.

Illinois PTA is most effective when our members combine their voices into PTA’s one voice, and the passage of SB550 provides ample proof of the impact we can have together. To add your voice to Illinois PTA’s one voice on future issues, sign up for the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network. Your e-mail address is only used to alert you to Illinois PTA advocacy campaigns, and our Voter Voice tools make it easy for you to contact your legislators in just minutes with a prewritten e-mail stating the Illinois PTA position. Join today!

 

Lead in School Drinking Water—What Families Need to Know

sb550-fountainNote: Illinois PTA has an advocacy campaign running now through January 10, 2017 to urge the Illinois House to join the Illinois Senate in passing SB550, a bill that would require testing every unique drinking water source in all Illinois schools and report high lead levels to families.

If you were looking to make a pipe, lead looks to be just about the perfect metal to use. It’s fairly soft as metals go, so it’s easy to work with. It doesn’t react strongly with water like iron or steel, so water running in the pipe or in the ground around the pipe won’t make the pipe corrode to a significant. It’s relatively abundant and has been mined for millennia. It seems like the perfect metal for the job; so much so that the word plumbing comes from the Latin word for lead, plumbum. There’s just one problem with lead—exposure to it causes numerous health problems for adults and especially children.

How Lead Gets in Drinking Water

While lead doesn’t react strongly to water like iron or steel, it still corrodes (like iron rusts) when exposed to water, especially if the water has high acidity or low mineral content. Lead poisoning in ancient Rome was not due to its lead pipes, as the high calcium levels in the water formed a protective layer inside the pipes between the lead pipe and the water. It was the use of lead cookware and as an additive in food (e.g., as a preservative in wine) that resulted in lead poisoning.

In the United States, lead pipes were used not only in indoor plumbing but also in the line that ran from the water main to the house. When copper pipes were used, they were often connected with brass fittings (which contain small amounts of lead to make them easier to make) or with lead solder. The longer that water is exposed to these lead-containing items, the higher the lead level in the water. This is why testing for lead in water uses the “first draw” (i.e., water that has sat in the pipe for a while) for the sample.

Homes and buildings built after 1986 are less likely to have lead pipes, brass fixtures and fittings, or lead solder. That is due to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) using the Safe Drinking Water Act to reduce the maximum allowable lead content of pipes, fittings, fixtures, and solder in order to be considered safe to use for drinking water.

Lead Exposure Standards

The EPA is required under the Safe Drinking Water Act to determine the level of contaminants in drinking water at which no health effects are likely to occur. These are non-enforceable health goals based only on possible health risks and are known as Maximum Contaminant Level Goals (MCLGs). For lead in drinking water, the MCLG is zero because any exposure to lead can lead to health issues and because lead bioaccumulates (i.e., builds up over time) in the body.

Since drinking water suppliers likely cannot completely eliminate lead, EPA has set an “action level” of 15 parts per billion (ppb). One part per billion is like one grain of sand in a sandbox, one drop of ink in a 14,000 gallon backyard swimming pool, or one second in 32 years. The 15 ppb action level was set based on costs and benefits of removing lead from drinking water, not on safety like the MCLG above.

When measuring lead exposure in people, a blood sample is tested. For adults, the level at which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends taking action is 10 micrograms per deciliter (μg/dL). For children, the level is only 5 μg/dL due to the increased health effects of lead on their development and their smaller body size.

It is important to note that drinking water is not the only way that children are exposed to lead. Lead in paint, dust, sole, air, and food may also be sources of lead exposure for children. EPA estimates that drinking water can make up to 20% or more of a person’s exposure to lead. For infants who consume mostly powdered formula mixed with water, 40% to 60% of their exposure can come from drinking water.

Health Effects of Lead on Children

Even low levels of lead exposure in children can result in:

  • Behavior and learning problems
  • Permanent intellectual disability
  • Reduced ability to pay attention
  • Slowed growth
  • Hearing problems
  • Kidney failure
  • Anemia

In addition, lead builds up in our bodies over time, where it is stored in bones along with calcium. During pregnancy, lead is released from the mother’s bones along with maternal calcium and is used to help form the bones of the fetus. This is especially true if the mother does not have enough calcium in her diet. Lead in the mother’s bloodstream can also cross the placental barrier, exposing the fetus to lead. This in utero lead exposure can result in reduced growth of the fetus and premature birth.

School Drinking Water and Lead

As noted above, lead levels in drinking water increase over time as the water sits without moving. For schools, this effect can be particularly important because of how drinking water is used in schools. Afternoon and evening activities at a school are often limited to only part of the school building, meaning that water fountains and sinks in other parts of the building do not run water from the end of the school day until the beginning of the next day. Water is also likely to sit in pipes over weekends and school holidays and breaks.

What You Can Do

The first thing to do is join Illinois PTA’s campaign to pass SB550 in the Illinois House. This bill, which has already passed the Illinois Senate, would require every school in Illinois—public, private, and parochial—to test for lead in the water of every unique drinking water source and to report high lead levels to families. The campaign has a prewritten e-mail to send to your Illinois representative urging them to support SB550 during the lame duck session on January 9-10, 2017. All you need to do is provide your name, contact information, and address (so Voter Voice can look up who your representative is for you). It only takes a minute of your time to speak up for safe school drinking water.

In addition, the EPA has an information page on lead in drinking water, as does the CDC. EPA also provides a Safe Drinking Water Hotline that you can call or e-mail to get your questions answered. The CDC has a general lead exposure information page and information on how to prevent children’s exposure to lead.

A Green Thumb’s Up for Science and Math in Your Garden

Spring is a time of renewal, and one great way to get children outside and connected with nature is through gardening. It’s an opportunity for them to learn not only about fresh fruits, vegetables, and healthy eating but also about science, math, and language arts in a hands-on living laboratory. Whether your garden is a windowsill collection of potted herbs, big raised beds in the back yard, a community garden plot, or even a school-based garden, Education Nation’s Parent Toolkit has some ideas to help get you started:

  • Start Small. Herbs grow easily on a window sill and provide an opportunity to learn about how plants turn sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into food and oxygen and to explore the life cycle of plants from seed to plant to flower and seed again.
  • Try a Raised Bed. If you’ve got the space, a raised bed garden provides the opportunity to grow fruits and vegetables with your child.Father And Two Little Boys On Organic Strawberry Farm Have them pick out ones they like or ones they’d just like to grow. Kids are often willing to try new fruits and vegetables when they’ve helped grow them. Consider a “pizza garden” growing tomatoes, onions, basil, and oregano or a “salsa garden” with tomatoes, onions, jalapeños, and cilantro. No grocery store tomato can compare to one picked fresh from your backyard.
  • Join a Community Garden. If you don’t have room for a garden at home, there is likely a community garden located nearby where you can get a plot. If it’s in walking distance, you have a great opportunity to wander over
    several times a week to see how things are growing, pull a few weeds, water the plants, and pick any fresh produce.
  • Start a School-Based Garden. Many schools have created butterfly gardens and other wildlife habitat gardens (and Illinois Department of Natural Resources has grants to help you do that). A new trend is fruit and vegetable gardens at schools that kids help to plant and tend that then add their fresh harvest to the school menu. REAL School Gardens has worked to develop such gardens primarily in Texas, while the Healthy Schools Campaign is working to “green up” schoolyards in Chicago with its Space to Grow program.
  • No Green Thumb? No Problem. Consider signing up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) membership or shop at your local farmer’s market with your children. CSA provides fresh fruit and produce from local farmers, and your membership buys a share in all of the produce harvested. CSA shares usually include fruits and vegetables, but may also include fresh eggs, meat, or flowers.


Find out more information from the Education Nation’s Lessons in Dirt article.