I have worked in gifted education in Wisconsin for more than 20 years. In my opinion we have the best chance in a long time, right now, to bring about fundamental change in how the state serves its gifted students. But we will waste this opportunity if we don’t have many voices advocating for change.
Perhaps you’re thinking “Isn’t that why WATG has an advocacy committee?” Yes, to some extent. That committee, now known as the Government Action Committee (GAC), does do a tremendous amount of volunteer work tracking proposed legislation and the state budget, communicating with legislators, and meeting with other education groups around the state. However, LEGISLATORS LISTEN TO THEIR CONSTITUENTS. After all, that’s who elects them.
We have been told that just a few inquiries about an issue can feel like a landslide in a state legislator’s office. Many of them, even members of the Education committees, never hear about gifted children or gifted education. A single conversation or story can make a difference. We have found that most legislators are shocked to see how little Wisconsin spends on gifted education compared to neighboring states, and they often have no idea how many barriers can be put up when families are just trying to get curriculum and instruction that meets the needs of their children. Many of them believe most of the common myths about gifted children and programs (see http://nagc.org/myths-about-gifted-students).
What happens next? The Joint Finance Committee has completed its hearings, and we are collecting examples of the written and video testimony submitted to JFC by gifted education advocates (see President Cathy Schmit’s column for more on this!). These examples will be available for you to refer to on the WATG website under the Advocacy link (look under Menu and then Get Involved, or go directly to http://www.watg.org/advocacy). What we need now is for YOU to contact YOUR* state senator and your state Assembly representative to let them know that you support WATG’s request for the current state budget ($2.5 million for the existing grant program, with part of that available to help fund a person at DPI to help process the additional grants), and to let them know why you care about appropriate challenge for gifted, talented, and advanced learners. (WATG is developing additional requests, but the current budget request is the most urgent.)
You can (and probably do) advocate with your own school district for better local services. The state level is where many policy decisions are made that affect your local schools. Please extend your advocacy to the state level by calling or emailing your* state legislators. Your Government Action Committee is more than ready to help you with your message! Send questions/requests to Advocacy@watg.org, and please let us know about your calls or emails so that we can keep track of which legislators have been contacted.
Thank you so much for your efforts on behalf of Wisconsin’s gifted students!
Pamela R. Clinkenbeard, Ph.D.
Former president, WATG
Member, Government Action Committee
* Go to http://legis.wisconsin.gov/ and on the right side of the page, you'll see the words, “Who Are My Legislators?” Underneath, there is a space to enter your address. Type in your complete HOME address and click "Find Your Legislators." Their contact information will pop up.