How Your PTA and Families Can Support National Reading Month

3321615408_7bb5356265_bMarch is National Reading Month, and kicks off with Read Across America Day on March 2, Dr. Seuss’s birthday. Your PTA and families can support reading both at school and in the home. Reading is a critically important skill for students to develop, and children who read 30 minutes each day progress faster and do better academically than their peers who read 15 minutes or less daily.

Host a PTA Family Reading Experience

National PTA has partnered with Amazon Kindle to bring the Family Reading Experience for kindergarten through grade 5. The program provides everything your PTA needs to host the event. At your event, there are six stations with literacy games for participants to play. Games are divided between kindergarten through grade 2 and grades 3 through 5. There are four different themes to use, so your PTA can host different events during the year or rotate themes each year. Most of the resources, including promotional materials, are available in Spanish as well as English to help support English Language Learners and their families. Plan your event today!

Supporting Reading at Home

The Getting Smart blog recently posted an article on four ways that adults can support child literacy. It included suggestions both for teachers at school and families at home. For families at home, the suggestions were:

  1. Make Time: Have a “Family Reading Time” when everyone in the family grabs their book and sits down to read at the same time.
  2. Provide Choice: Even the youngest child can pick which book to read, even if it’s just because they like books with red covers. Make sure the choice being made in your house is not to read or not to read, but what to read.
  3. Read to Kids: Reading to kids tends to taper off the more adept they become at reading, but children can understand much more than they are capable of reading on their own. Hearing words read to them before they come across them on their own can also help with learning pronunciation.
  4. Talk About Books: Has any child ever provided an informative answer to, “How was school today?” You will likely have a bit more success with, “What are you reading now?” and the answer can provide a jumping off point for further discussion: “Do you like it?” “Why?” “Who is your favorite character?”

Photo © 2006 courtesy of nedradio under Creative Commons license.

IRS Releases Updated Form 990-EZ

form-990-ez-topAs 501(c)3 organizations, PTAs are required to file some type of Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) every year. That form is due on the 15th day of the fifth month after the end of their fiscal year. For PTAs whose fiscal year ends June 30th, the filing deadline is November 15th.

PTAs that have gross receipts (i.e., total income) that are normally less than $50,000 file the online electronic postcard Form 990-N. Those PTAs with gross receipts between $50,000 and $200,000 use the Form 990-EZ. The IRS has issued an updated version of Form 990-EZ to help non-profit organizations file the form correctly. PTAs will use the new form for fiscal years that end after September 30, 2016 (i.e., with a due date of February 15, 2017 or later).

After analyzing where organizations were making mistakes on the Form 990-EZ, the IRS added 29 new “help” icons in specific fields to describe the key information needed and to provide links to additional helpful resources on the IRS website. The new form’s help icons are small blue boxes marked with a question mark (see picture). The icons and links work on any device with Adobe Acrobat Reader and internet access.

The IRS is encouraging non-profit organizations that file the Form 990-EZ to fill it out electronically rather than on paper. In 2016, the error rate for electronically-filed Form 990-EZ returns was 1 percent, while the paper-filed error rate was 33 percent. Once completed, the online Form 990-EZ can be printed out and mailed to the IRS.

The IRS does caution that the new help icons do not replace the Form 990-EZ instructions, but only serve as an aid in filling out the form. PTAs should follow the Form 990-EZ instructions when completing their return.

The Woke PTA’s Guide to Advocacy

wokeptaThe last few weeks have seen an unprecedented level of civic engagement. Huge demonstrations have drawn out people who have never marched. Congressional switchboards have received more calls than ever before. Your PTA may have many members who are now looking for ways to advocate on behalf of children through PTA. Here’s a guide to help your newly #WokePTA started with advocacy.

IRS Limits

All PTAs are 501(c)3 non-profit organizations, which limits how they can advocate. The primary requirement is that your PTA addresses issues, not people. That means that your PTA cannot endorse candidates, but can (if your membership votes to do so) support a school referendum, advocate for policy changes in your school district, or speak out about pending legislation.

In IRS terms, this is the difference between “political campaign activity” (working for or against a candidate) and “lobbying” (working for or against legislation). The former is prohibited; the latter is allowed. Participating in “political campaign activity” can result in a PTA losing its 501(c)3 status and having to pay certain excise taxes as well.

The other constraint that the IRS places on 501(c)3 organizations is the amount of money they may spend on lobbying. The IRS limits lobbying activity to an “insignificant” portion of an organization’s budget, and defines insignificant as 5 percent. This means that your PTA can spend up to 5% of its budget on things like information handouts and yard signs about a school referendum. Given that most grassroots advocacy involves fairly low-cost activities, this limit should not hinder your PTA’s advocacy efforts to a significant degree.

Engaging in State and National Issues

One of the benefits of being a PTA is having people following issues and legislation on the state and national level. Both Illinois PTA and National PTA have easy-to-use advocacy tools to alert members about pending legislation that they should contact their legislators about.

You can sign up for the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network by providing just your e-mail address and zip code (to identify your state legislators). When Illinois PTA issues a call to action, you will receive an e-mail with a link to our Voter Voice tools that will have a pre-written e-mail that you just need to sign to send to your legislators. It literally takes a minute or two. The Voter Voice tools provide additional resources to help you find out about pending legislation and contacting legislators as well.

National PTA also uses Voter Voice for their advocacy efforts, and you can sign up using the Quick Sign Up box. National PTA also publishes a monthly PTA Takes Action newsletter that provides timely information on national issues.

You should also note that meeting with your legislators, either state or national, doesn’t necessarily involve a trip to Springfield or Washington, DC. Your legislators may have a local office in your community or nearby that you can visit as well. You can use the Voter Voice tools to look up your legislators and locate their district offices. Even if you cannot meet with your legislator, meeting with their staff can be productive as well. Last fall, Illinois PTA presented a webinar on how to meet with legislators as part of its preparation for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield. The recorded webinar will walk you through how to set up an appointment and what to do when you have your meeting.

Addressing Local Issues

Advocating with PTA is not just about state and national legislation. PTA advocacy can make a significant difference in local issues as well. As Illinois’s budget crisis approaches 2 years, many school districts are conducting bond referenda to provide needed revenue for their schools. Your PTA can support or oppose a referendum if your membership votes to do so. Illinois PTA has covered the things that PTAs can and can’t do regarding elections, and National PTA recently teamed with Nonprofit VOTE to provide election guides in both English and Spanish.

If your school district has school board elections coming up this spring, your PTA can host a candidate forum. All candidates must be invited to participate in the forum, though some may choose not to do so. Each candidate should be given equal time to speak. Your PTA can have specific questions that it puts to all of the candidates, and you can also take questions from the audience. In the latter case, you may want to have audience members submit questions on index cards so similar questions can be reduced to one comprehensive question.

Local PTA advocacy is not limited to just referenda and school board candidate forums. Your PTA may be concerned about supporting special education students, gifted students, LGBTQ students, immigrant students and families, homeless students, or other groups. There may be school district policies that your PTA does not believe provide the best education or environment for the students of the district. If your PTA wants to address a local issue, but doesn’t know where to start, Illinois PTA’s video on How to Advocate the PTA Way walks you through how to pick an issue, create an advocacy campaign, and bring it to life.

Additional Resources

PTA has been advocating on behalf of children for 120 years, on issues such as child labor, school nutrition, and juvenile justice. PTA can make its biggest difference in the lives of children when it changes policies and laws that affect them throughout a school district or across a state or the nation. The benefit of this long history of PTA advocacy is that there are a lot of resources to help your PTA be successful advocates.

National PTA Provides New Resources for PTA Advocates

pta-advocacy-chagnes-lives-coverPTA is the nation’s oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy organization, with a legacy of work that has improved the lives of every child in this country. On Friday, January 27, National PTA announced its 2017 Federal Public Policy Agenda with a Facebook Live event (view recording).

As part of this announcement, National PTA released PTA Advocacy Changes Lives, National PTA’s guide to impacting public policy. The guide highlights PTA’s advocacy work and provides information on topics such as family engagement, juvenile justice, supporting children with special needs, health, and safety. Each section also includes a Why PTA Advocacy Matters section that shares a personal story of how PTA advocacy has changed the lives of children at the local level. If your PTA is looking for a way to make a difference in your school or your district, the PTA Advocacy Changes Lives guide is a great place to start.

Also included in the announcement was the release of National PTA’s legislative checklist for the 115th Congress. The checklist includes the following goals:

  • Adequately fund education programs through a regular appropriations process
  • Reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA)
  • Reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  • Reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act
  • Reauthorize and modernize the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA) and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)
  • Improve the well-being and learning environment of children
  • Expand and enhance early childhood education opportunities
  • Protect youth, families, and communities from gun and other violence

The checklist provides additional details on each of these goals.