This article is copied from the website "Keep Eanes Informed."  (This site was created by Dianna Pharr and contains many documents and stories that are of interest to all parents no matter the school district.) Eanes ISD is in Austin, Texas.)


Article Last Updated: 05/4/2009

Baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and…PTA?

Well, maybe that’s not the exact jingle today’s crop of PTA parents grew up with, but as far as nostalgia goes, what’s more all-American than our century-old PTA? It conjures up images of well-scrubbed children, bake sales and volunteering moms – the stuff of Norman Rockwell’s finest and the veritable backbone of the American family. Established back in 1897, there’s no denying the PTA has left an indelible footprint on the American landscape since its inception.

Only eleven years younger than its parent organization, this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Texas chapter of the PTA, which has been suffering from steadily declining numbers despite a statewide increase in ISD enrollment. In response, the Texas PTA has begun to strategically distance itself from this heartwarming image of hardworking but politically disinclined coffee-swilling, cookie-baking housewives, by touting its ability to influence state policy through a 600,000 plus strong remaining membership. But why the dwindling numbers?

In an ironic twist, the Texas PTA may want to rethink its latest PR strategy of positioning itself as a political machine and reconnect to those homegrown roots it blames for the attrition. A brouhaha last month at the State Capitol reveals some fractures in this organization’s picturesque image and a thinly-veiled but well-hidden agenda that would indicate it is the teachers’ unions that call the PTA shots while partisan platforms prevail. One thing is certain; these recent events brazenly contradict the public perception of a non-threatening, one-for-all, all-for-one kind of Americana. More on that later - let’s get down to basics first.

What is the PTA?

Although for most the name still evokes visions of bake sales and old-fashioned neighborliness, the PTA has been working overtime to bill itself as equal parts political prowess and home-grown values. As described on the
Texas PTA website, PTA is a non-partisan “grassroots organization made up of parents, teachers and others around the state that has a special interest in children, families and schools. By joining PTA, a member automatically becomes part of the largest child-advocacy organization in the state -- over 630,000 strong across Texas.”

The largest child-advocacy organization in Texas.

Now that’s some muscle. And it’s hard to argue with the worthiness of such a cause. Both the state and national PTA motto is “Every Child. One Voice.” with the shared vision of “Making every child’s potential a reality.” Who wouldn’t support that?

But what happens when that one voice for every child doesn’t seem to speak for children or parents at all?

What does the “P” stand for in PTA?

Almost anyone could tell you that the “P” stands for “parent.” But does it really? Or does the “P” actually stand for a plethora of purposes such as, perhaps, pushing partisan platforms promoting policies protecting public schools, per se?

Whew - bet you can’t say that ten times fast! Who knew so many p-words and such powerful politicking were behind the “P” in PTA? And since when did politics and the PTA get all jumbled up?

That just may be the best kept little secret of the PTA, as explained by former public school teacher, Charlene K. Haar, who studied this issue and divulged her findings in a 2003 book she authored entitled, “The Politics of the PTA.” And what she found is likely to make the average PTA parent choke on their morning cuppajoe. In a 2003 interview regarding her book, Ms. Haar explained:

Is it any wonder, then, that a notorious teachers’ union partisan position and textbook polarizing political strategy can be found among the Texas PTA 2009 Legislative priorities, slipped in at the very bottom of the list?

Oppose Vouchers

“Texas PTA supports our system of public education as the major vehicle for perpetuating the basic values of a democratic system of government. This system must be strengthened and continue to be governed by public officials accountable to the public and supported by adequate funding.


Texas PTA opposes voucher systems or tuition credits for nonpublic school tuition and other education-related expenses, and believes home schools and other nonpublic schools should meet the same educational standards as public schools.”


It’s not surprising that an organization built of public school supporters would support the public school system, but should that system and its profiteers trump the desires of parents and needs of children? According to the Texas PTA, it most certainly does. And this is where the organization found themselves up to their elbows in hot water last month in Austin, when they activated their massive network to recruit a parent of a child with autism to testify against a locally-developed and parent-driven bill, Senate Bill 2204, that was designed to enhance public school services in order to improve life outcomes for students with autism. The bill was developed for those students most at risk of ending up in costly residential placements in order to allow them to pursue an independent life, and spare parents one of their greatest fears – seeing their children end up imprisoned in one of the 12 Texas state schools. Yet in a pervasive political ploy, the PTA tagged it a “voucher” and deemed it must die.


The following is the exact text of an e-mail that was sent by the Plano Council of PTAs to both local members and forwarded to neighboring ISDs:

Plano Council of PTAs is in need of a PARENT of a CHILD WITH AUTISM to present a testimonial TOMORROW before the Texas Senate opposing a Voucher Bill.

Funding of this quick trip to Austin is available, CAN YOU HELP?


It is unknown just how many of these emergency action alerts went out from the various PTA chapters on the eve of the hearing on Senate Bill 2204. It is no accident, however, that the city of Plano was specifically targeted to recruit a PTA “plant” for this hearing. SB 2204 was filed by Plano’s own Senator Shapiro, a much-beloved champion of children’s rights and, in particular, a staunch advocate for students with autism. Perhaps the PTA thought it would be particularly powerful (and painful) for the Senator to be faced with her own constituent fighting her own bill.


And the PTA gods delivered! A Plano parent of not one but two young children with autism scrambled to heed the request with a single-minded mission – to kill the bill, possibly enticed by an all-expenses paid trip to Austin courtesy of the PTA pocketbook.


And the testimony was painful, just as the PTA must have hoped, but not in the way they had hoped. There was one major miscalculation by the Texas PTA and their dutiful recruit. Her children had Asperger’s syndrome, a very high-functioning form of autism, and per her own testimony, were not in need of an intensive behavioral program like those students in need of a crisis intervention plan for whom the bill was written. While all children who fall anywhere on the broad autism spectrum are entitled to appropriately individualized education plans according to federal law, this parent had something else on her mind – insurance coverage related to mental health disorders. Her testimony even seemed to suggest that our public schools have no obligation to address affected children’s educational needs at all – calling it a “health issue…that needs to be addressed in the medical setting and paid for by health insurance, not our education funds.”


It wasn’t more than a minute into her testimony representing the Texas PTA that it became clear this parent was not a stakeholder in the legislation she was opposing. She was an unfortunate pawn in a bigger agenda that encourages the silent cleansing of certain students. Unlike the other parents who were there on their own dime to speak from the heart to support legislation that they hoped would lead to a better future for these children, it was transparent that the only parent opposing SB 2204 must have been motivated by something else (a perk package?) that would be incentive enough to leave her two young children with autism at home to travel to Austin to fight a bill designed to bring resources from the private sector into the public school setting for the betterment of all.


Once the ploy was discovered and she confessed to her all-expenses-paid appearance courtesy of the Texas PTA, rather than retreat gracefully, she became increasingly combative and condescending, insisting that all children with autism, no matter where they may fall on the broad spectrum, are “the same” and that she was there to “educate (Senator Shapiro) on this (issue.)” She continued to insult Senator Shapiro, insisting she “obviously” needed to be educated on the topic until she was told her time was up and made a hasty exit. Not surprisingly, the Texas PTA officers who were at the hearing to testify on other legislation that day did a disappearing act as well, one would assume out of utter embarrassment and possibly to strategize on how to contain this PR disaster.


Imagine the surprise then, when parents contacted the Texas PTA about this outrage, only to be met with as unapologetic a posture as the Plano parent herself demonstrated on the witness stand. It seems the Texas PTA hoped parents would believe the PTA had been victimized in some way, and their witness harassed and unfairly cut short despite her factually inaccurate testimony, personal irrelevance and irreverence and having substantially exceeded the allotted time, and despite selling out all children with special needs’ rights to an individualized education in order to “support and strengthen the public education system.”


So where is the apology to the parents and children the PTA sold out? To the dues-paying PTA parents everywhere who were stunned and embarrassed by this testimony that they themselves unwittingly funded and who never knew they were paying a state organization to lobby in their name while taking questionable legislative positions they were never polled on?


Or is the reality of joining the PTA merely that parents pay for the privilege to work their tails off for their children’s public schools, only to find themselves prostituted when those dollars are hijacked to fund the lobbying activities of teachers’ unions that are counter to serving our most vulnerable students and families? So let’s ask again:

What does the “P” stand for in PTA?

Here’s an action alert for the Texas PTA officers: