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Over the past several months, I have been
involved in grass roots efforts to ensure daily recess for
all elementary school students in my state. Parents across Florida have been
working at the local level to get recess for their children, unsuccessfully, so
they united toward a common goal. We are known as "The Recess Moms." Though we do have plenty of dads on our team, too.
We set our sights on the state Capitol.
Local school boards and superintendents refused to listen and respond
appropriately, despite decades of research demonstrating the need for recess. So we Recess Moms took the fight to the legislature.
After joining the
group, I sent emails and made phone calls. I recruited everyone I knew to do
the same. I went on
television. Twice. I worked social media and my personal networks. I had to stay behind when the Recess Moms went to Tallahassee, but did whatever I could from home to support the movement.
Early on, we had a lot of support and also a few hurdles. Bills were drafted and introduced in the state House and Senate. Co-sponsors
lined up to add their names.
But one man has stood in the way.
He used his power to silence the voices of Florida's more than 1 million public school children and their parents. He alone had the ability to stop the bill dead in its tracks, and he chose to exercise it. I have always been very cynical about politics
and politicians, and this experience has only made that attitude worse. The
things I have been exposed to and learned about the legislative process make my
Corruption. Greed. Power. Ego. Money.
Sounds like the making of a good TV series or
movie. But in this case, it real life.
One of the first things the Recess Moms group was asked was if we had hired a lobbyist. When it comes to
politics, money talks. Our group had no funding to support the efforts, but
there was strong buy-in across the state from parents, educators and well-know
If you think our elected officials are looking out for the best interests of their constituents, think again.
The chairperson of the K-12
Education Committee in the Senate, John Legg, refused to place the bill on his agenda—despite
strong bi-partisan backing in both the House and Senate, despite overwhelming
support from Florida parents (read voters). Also, despite endorsements from key
Legg would not respond to the
thousands of phone calls and emails that poured in from across the state. He wouldn't meet in person with the parents who drove hours to Tallahassee, more than once, and camped out in front of his Capitol office for an appointment. His aides were often rude and condescending to those who managed to get through to them.
We put together a campaign where a parent would call his office every five minutes for two days. Eventually, his staff shut off the phones.
At no point has he spoken to anyone about the bill, even its sponsors. He refused their request for appointments to meet with him. He simply shut the whole thing down. He ignored a request from
the President of the Florida Senate to agenda the bill. He refused to answer
questions from the media, until he really had no choice. He did finally state publicly he had no intention of allowing the recess bill to move forward in the Senate.
Senator John Legg owns a number
of charter schools in Florida. His wife runs one of them, making a six-figure
salary. The privatization of education in this country is big business. And in many cases,
the ones who profit are the very legislators who make policy decisions
regarding public education. If you think our elected
officials are looking out for the best interests of their
constituents, think again.
Not all are corrupt, of course. There
are politicians who truly care and work tirelessly to address the concerns of
the people who put them in office. We've had the opportunity to work with some
of them here in Florida. We call them our "Recess
Heroes." And many are working right now, behind the scenes, to try to get this bill around
Senator Legg's roadblock and do what is right for our children. Last-minute maneuvering and deal-making is very much a part of the legislative process. Usually, it has nothing to do with the bill itself and everything to do with the people involved and the special interest groups that pay them.
Senator Legg introduced
several bills regarding education this legislative session. Seven to be exact. Most
concerned charter schools. They were all placed on his committee's agenda. But ensuring Florida's
public elementary school children are guaranteed the fundamental right to play
is not something he was interested in doing.
The Recess Moms held a press
conference, with a dozen members of the legislature, all of whom urged him to
reconsider. He dug his heels in deeper.
The House bill passed with a
vote of 112-2. Legg reiterated that he had no intention of allowing the bill to move forward in the Senate. The President of the Senate backed him up, refusing to use his own power to go around Legg and support the bill. As I write, parents across the state are contacting the Senate President and
Rules Chair urging them to take alternate steps to move the bill forward in the Senate. Any bill that passes in the House is automatically sent to the Senate, where it can be taken up for debate and a vote.
We aren't going to just go away. We are fighting for Florida's kids now. And we have no intention of stopping until we succeed.
Despite the media reporting our fight is over, we have not given up. Every possible option is being explored.
There are a few things I have
learned by being part of this process. If you want to advocate for children in
your state, here's what you need to do:
Start early at the local level. Gather people together who believe in your
cause. Then branch out. Connect with others in a wider area. Bring groups together,
pool your resources and grow, grow, grow. Numbers are important. You need as
much public support as possible. You need experts and large organizations who will publicly back your mission—preferably those with pull in the legislature who are willing to help there.
the process you will be navigating. Learn who the important players are and
meet with them. Try to anticipate ahead of time what resistance or obstacles you might run
into and be prepared for them. Do your research and have answers and solutions
at the ready. Have multiple layers to your plan; do not approach the issue from one angle only.
Use social and traditional media to get the word out about your cause. Mobilize
your group and get in touch with your legislators. Flood their offices with
emails and phone calls. Make personal visits to their district and capital offices. Plan to have members of your movement present for the legislative
The Florida Recess Moms have not given up, even after fighting this battle for
several years. Senator Legg is not going to stop us. We aren't going to
just go away. We are fighting for Florida's kids now. And we have no intention of
stopping until we succeed. We hope this is our year, but if it is not, we will be back next legislative session.
of the most powerful means each of us has to speak up about the things that
matter to us is participating in elections. When you do, know who you are
voting for. Don't just listen to what the candidate has to say—look at what
he or she has done. Voting tallies are public record. Find out how legislators
have voted on issues that matter to you. And if you don't like it, tell them so
on your ballot.
The political process was
designed to work for the people. We have to be informed and involved to ensure