The NEA Representative Assembly and How You Can Get Involved

Cassie Lyles

Do you know how every year you get these emails from JCTA asking you to vote for delegates for the NEA RA?  Have you ever wondered what that’s all about? Five years ago I didn’t know what it was or why it should matter to me, then a fellow JCTA member encouraged me to run to go, and I’ve attended for the past four summers.  This was the turning point for me that got me more involved. It greatly extended my understanding of our organization at a local, state, and national level and convinced me that I have the power to make a difference.

  For those who may not know, NEA RA stands for the National Education Association Representative Assembly.  It is the largest democratic meeting in the world. Between 8,000 to 10,000 NEA members are elected from state and local affiliates around the nation to attend.  Over the course of a few days in the summer, we vote on our organization’s budget, legislative program, amendments to our organization’s constitution, as well as the actions we want our leadership to take over the course of the year.  In between the business, there are inspirational speeches, performances, and recognitions for awards. As a civics teacher, the sight and sound of that many people making decisions together by acclamation or by standing is astounding. I stood in awe of the power that individuals and groups have to sway debate.  I never knew that I could have a voice in determining the direction of my organization! It’s an exhilarating thought. One of our own members, Kumar Rashad, had two new business items that were debated and passed and are now a part of what NEA must accomplish during this year. If you ever thought you have no voice in our local, state, or national organization, I assure you that you can.

One of the beautiful things about the Representative Assembly is that you network and make friends with educators all over our state, but also throughout our nation.  I sat by another social studies teacher from Virginia on a bus last year and we still send lesson ideas back and forth. Through joining caucuses, you can find people with similar interests and support causes you care about.  This past year, one of the most popular items to purchase was a T-shirt that was collaboratively designed by the Hispanic Caucus and LBGT Caucus where all of the proceeds went to protecting LBGTQ+ asylum seekers needing assistance at the border.  There are more lighthearted caucuses as well. For example, the Karaoke Caucus and Kentucky’s own Bourbon Caucuses are both taking action to be official next year. You hear stories and get perspectives from all over the country. This year, I also participated in the NEA choir which did a surprise performance of a Hamilton medley with some slightly adjusted words, again just one more way you can connect with educators from other places.

The most exciting prospect at this year’s Representative Assembly, however, was the Strong Public Schools 2020 Presidential Forum.  Ten democratic contenders who are in the race for nomination came to answer questions submitted by members of the NEA: Bernie Sanders, Julián Castro, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Jay Inslee, Bill de Blasio, Tim Ryan, and Kamala Harris.  Each of them had a minute to introduce themselves however they wanted and then three minutes for each of their three questions. You can watch the whole thing here:  If you want to skip explanations and introductions, the first candidate takes is actually introduced at 7 minutes and 50 seconds.

If you have not yet participated in a Representative Assembly in the past, I would enthusiastically encourage you to run for election next year.  It will give you a whole new perspective of this amazing organization to which we belong. You will build relationships with other Kentuckians and members throughout the nation but more importantly, you will know how decisions are made.  You will know more about the resources available to you and the power you have. It will absolutely blow you away.

So You Want to Go to the Capitol

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

There are many reasons one might visit the Capitol. It’s a lovely building, so you might visit as a tourist. You could visit to meet with your elected legislators or attend a committee meeting. During Session (or the impending Special Session), often visitors arrive to make their voices heard. How exactly do you go about visiting the Capitol? 

If you’re traveling, you’ll want to prepare before you go. It’s a good idea to bring snacks and water, depending on how long you’ll be there. For longer rallies, this can be an all day affair. It’s also easy to lose track of time while you’re there, so having something quick to eat is important. You’ll also want to pack a way to charge your phone, such as a cable with a portable power bank. While there are outlets in the Capitol, they’re not as plentiful as more recent buildings. For larger rallies, you’ll also need to add outdoor protection to your list. Sometimes you get in the building, and sometimes you don’t. Being prepared for the weather in case you are stuck outside due to capacity restrictions is the best idea. All of this can be carried around in a backpack, which you can bring into the Capitol building itself, though it will be searched.

Entering the Capitol can happen in two locations. There is the Capitol building that houses the House, Senate, and Supreme Court. There is a separate building called the Annex. You can enter either building and have access to both using an underground tunnel that connects them. This is especially useful when you are in Frankfort on cold days. The Annex houses the offices of the legislators, which is where they generally meet with their constituents. The Annex also has a place to purchase food, should you find yourself in Frankfort and checked in and without food. 

To enter either building, there is a newer sign in system. If you are 18 or older, you need to have your ID out and ready to be scanned using a new security check in system. As you check in, you select whether you are there on business or for tourism. If you are there for business, you type in the committee or legislator you are seeing. You then scan the back of your ID, take a selfie, and proceed through a metal detector. The new sign in system produces a sticker with your name, picture, and who or what you are there for. The previous sign in system used a sticker with just the date and your ID information was written down by a guard.

If you are in Frankfort during Session and want to watch what happens in either chamber, you will need a ticket to enter either side. You first wait in line for your ticket and then wait in line to enter the chamber of your choice with your ticket. I recommend wearing comfortable shoes when you visit during Session. You never know when you’ll get a chance to sit on especially busy days.

Frankfort is beautiful and visiting during non-Session times is wonderful. Sessions are built in the off season, so visiting and contacting legislators then is integral in facilitating any change you wish to see. 

Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists Vital to Education

Katie Cohen

Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists based in schools are vital to improving the communication of students from early childhood through graduation.  These unsung heroes are communication professionals who work with students who have communication disorders as well as students with multiple disabilities to give them equal access to public education.  Their work encompasses helping students gain communication skills that will boost their success in classroom activities, social interactions, literacy, and learning.  

Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists deserve to be recognized  as highly qualified professionals. Many of these professionals have earned a Certificate of Clinical Competence through the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.  In order to complete this certification, they must earn a Masters degree from an accredited university, perform 1600 hours of supervised clinical experience, pass a nationally recognized exam, and earn 30 continuing education hours every three years.  This Certificate of Clinical Competence is similar, but not synonymous with the National Board Certification for Teachers. Both the Certificate of Clinical Competence and National Board Certification for Teachers are programs that encourage professional excellence, and successful attainment of these credentials signifies mastery in the candidate’s respective professional field.  

Currently, nine states provide a range of salary supplements to school-based Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists who hold a Certificate of Clinical Competence.  For example, Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists in Delaware public schools who hold their Certificate of Clinical Competency from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association receive a salary supplement equal to 6% of their annual salary.  These supplements are a means to attract highly qualified communication specialists to work in public education rather than working in the medical field where they could potentially earn double the pay. Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology is a high-need career in public schools, so in addition to having to compete against the private sector, there is stiff competition among states to attract talented professionals.  

During the 2010 KY legislative session, House Bill 376, also known as the Salary Supplement Bill, was passed and subsequently signed into law by Governor Steve Beshear. This law allows school-based Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists possessing a Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association to be given a salary stipend of $2000, which is equivalent to the stipend received by teachers earning National Board Certification.  This salary supplement is intended to help Kentucky attract and retain the best communication specialists to our public schools.  

Unfortunately, the Kentucky General Assembly passed the Salary Supplement Bill without providing funding for local districts to offer the stipends in the 2010 and 2012 budgets.  In 2014 funding for the stipend was included in the budget drafted by the Kentucky House of Representatives, but was then removed by the Senate. This important legislation remains unfunded to this day.  While the law allows local school boards to provide this stipend to qualified employees, it does not require them to do so. Without state funding, most districts have declined to offer the stipend. In the 2019 legislative session, Representatives Regina Huff, Larry Elkins, Kelly Flood, Ruth Ann Palumbo, and Phillip Pratt introduced House Bill 168, which would require local school boards to fund the annual supplement to qualified Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists.  This bill passed unanimously out of the House, but died in the Senate.

The Kentucky Speech-Language Hearing Association,  along with their affiliated Kentucky Advocacy Network, and Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists across the state worked tirelessly during this legislative session to gain support for the supplemental salary stipend.  In recognition for the efforts, Governor Matt Bevin signed a proclamation designating May as Better Speech and Hearing Month in Kentucky. 

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, roughly one out of every twelve children ages 3 – 17 in the US suffers from a disorder related to voice, speech, language, or swallowing, but only 55% of those children receive intervention services from a Speech-Language Pathologist or Audiologist.  The services these professionals provide are essential to our students’ growth, learning, and well-being. It is crucial for our legislature and our local school boards to fund salary stipends for highly qualified Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists in order to attract and retain the best and brightest practitioners to Kentucky’s public schools.  

Please consider taking a moment of your time to reach out to your legislators by phone, email, or face-to-face in support of school-based Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists. Ask legislators to include funding in the budget to follow through with the commitment made to school-based Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists by the Kentucky legislature in 2010.

Visit to find your Senator and Representative.

Send an email.

Call the legislative hotline at 1-800-372-7181 and dictate your message to a friendly operator.

Educators want to #CloseTheCamps

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

The National Educators Association held its annual Representative Assembly this past week in Houston, Texas. The location meant that educators from across the country found themselves near a troubling reality in America – the child detention centers. As the country debates the semantics of whether these are actually concentration camps (they are), educators joined together to march for “Education, Not Separation” on Independence Day. 

In years marred by educators being told to stick to educating and stay out of politics by naysayers, teachers have chosen to continue to use their voices to fight for children and their futures. When the safety and well-being of children is at stake, education professionals will always band together to fight and march for what is right.

The concentration camps at the border will no doubt affect education for decades to come. Children who have been traumatized have a harder time learning than their peers. The type of trauma being described within these facilities will no doubt have a lasting effect on these children. These children need to be integrated into the American school system. When they do, they will need to have special instruction.

Many of us have had students who have spent time in detention centers. After making the arduous trip, the language barrier is not the only obstacle students face. A large number of students fit the label SIFE – Students with Interrupted Formal Education. Due to violence or war, formal education can be interrupted for months or years, causing different learning problems for students immigrating in other ways. 

From NEA Today Facebook

We don’t know the ramifications of combining this type of trauma with SIFE. Students in Kentucky are guaranteed a free, public education through the age of 20. It is likely that these children would need longer, more sustained supports. What we do know is that the conditions they are being kept in is not helping. The act of separating them from their caregivers and then leaving them in devastating conditions is abhorrent. Removing the educational aspect of this dire situation, we as educators and advocates for children know this isn’t right. The camps must be closed and the children need to be reunited with their rightful caregivers. The world is watching us, and so is history. 

Beshear, Coleman Better Serve Kentuckians

Jason Starr Nelson

Most of us Kentuckians must rise early. The days are long, sometimes hard, sometimes blissful, but always meaningful. We spend our lives serving those we love – our wives, husbands, children, extended family, and dearest friends. Kentuckians are bonded through sweat, tears, and laughter. When our neighbors fall on hard times, we pick them up. When we find ourselves on a knee, there is usually a hand when we look up. 

Beshear/Coleman Campaign Photo

For some Kentuckians, November brings a tough decision. However, Kentuckians have an opportunity to extend its benevolence from Pike to Fulton counties. Kentuckians have a chance to change course and progress toward a better day.

Since 2015, something’s been amiss. An outsider who demands so much of us, takes from us, scolds us, and offers little to nothing in return has led our state. Perhaps this is where our anxiety about this election truly lies. We know what’s right. Which is why so many Kentuckians find comfort in the candidates whose families’ have resided in our commonwealth for generations.

Like many of us, Jacqueline Coleman coached our kids. As an educator, she taught our children. She founded a non-profit to give back to Kentucky and her home of Mercer County, where her family has resided for five generations. She experienced what we all have. She’s experienced the highs and lows of Bluegrass living. 

Photo from Coleman's Twitter
Coleman talks with a fellow educator

Coleman is the role model of which so many Kentuckians seek. She’s an assistant principal at Nelson County High School and helps empower our state’s women to excel through her non-profit Lead Kentucky. She wants to help create a world-class public education system and to uplift rural Kentucky. She will give a voice to those who feel shut out, but refuse to back down, which is why she will be a great Lieutenant Governor, and a great advisor to our next governor, Andy Beshear.

Andy Beshear’s record speaks for itself. Put his last name aside for a moment, and you will find a Kentuckian who attended public schools like most of us and an Attorney General who has fought relentlessly for teachers and against those who fueled our opioid epidemic, who flooded our state with pills and rogue doctors and drug traffickers.

Photo from Beshear's Twitter
Beshear walking in 4th of July Parade in Taylor County

It was Beshear who defeated harmful legislation in court, halting the sewer pension bill in its tracks, preventing $18 million in cuts to universities and community colleges, has helped secure the testing of every Kentucky rape kit, launched Scam Alerts, the state’s first direct text scam warning system, where he has signed up 24,000 seniors and returned $2 million that was stolen.

Beshear and Coleman have Kentuckians’ best interests at heart. They know what it means to be public servants and to give more than one receives. For the past four years, we’ve seen cuts and more cuts. We’ve seen the well-off become more well-off, while the working class carries more of the burden.

Kentuckians must stop accepting less and less. We deserve affordable health care. Beshear is fighting to keep 1.3 million Kentuckians covered by not allowing insurers to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions. He wants to prevent thousands of families from being thrown off the Medicaid program.

Kentuckians deserve good-paying jobs that are only created through increased demand, not the lie of corporate tax breaks. He understands increasing wages, innovation, and investment in public education can create a thriving job market in our state.

Beshear and Coleman will fight corruption. They believe in term limits, transparency, and will require all elected officials to release tax returns, and banning contractors from giving gifts to public officials.

They will fight for affordable college, inclusiveness, and to address climate change. Beshear and Coleman will seek new revenue through expanded gaming and Medical Marijuana. Beshear will bring an end to Right-to-Work, and strengthen unions that contribute to higher wages and better benefits. Unlike those who want to cut veteran’s benefits, Beshear has a plan to increase job-skills training for Kentucky’s 300,000 veterans. 

We’ve sacrificed enough as a state and it’s time to elect those who have our interests at heart and not their own and that of special interests. It’s time to return to our roots and do what we know is right.

I Am Not A Protester

Brian Hundley

Pike County Teacher

I am not a protestor.  I WANT to live a quiet life.  I had been uninvolved in the worries of bureaucracy.  “Let the bigwigs in Frankfort handle it, they will take care of teachers because we take care of kids.” That was always my mantra.  But as more and more information began spiraling out of control about our pension crisis, I began to see that was not the case.

For 15 years, I have enjoyed my career as a teacher.  However, these last few years have been grueling. Not because of the workload; I have accepted that changes happen and more is required. Not in the lack of cost of living pay increases; our family is making it when others in our community struggle. I have been thrown into this upheaval because the institution that once valued my profession as honorable, has now turned its back on me and others like me and are trying to strip away promises of a secure future.  This is unacceptable and troubling.  

This caused me and a group of my colleagues in Pike County to take action.  It started out as a Facebook group called Pike County Strong.  We found ourselves at the tip of the spear of a revolution.  Very quickly, we had high ranking officials come and meet with us directly and request our input on how to get other groups to unite and come together.  Other groups began popping up across the state like wildfire. It led to groups such as this, ordinary people stepping out of our comfort zone to fight for each other, our students, and futures. Both theirs and ours. A fight all over the 120 counties of this Commonwealth that we all hold so dear. 

I am not a protester, but have found through this I am a defender of what is right, a unifier of those that think their voices are too small, and a believer in the truth that a great education should be a right of everyone, not just those that can be accepted at a charter school.  

I didn’t desire these roles.  However, when you see that your livelihood and the future of your family rests in the balance, a change in you happens.  You believe that you can make a difference. Many of our teachers across Kentucky are beginning to understand that very truth. Many, like me, don’t seek the role of protester, advocate, or defender.  Nevertheless, here we are. The most important roles we play now are simple. Supporter. Educator. Voter. These come more naturally to most of us.  

Now is the time that all of our efforts can lead to true change.  We have to take a stand. Together. The price is too high for anything less.

Tips for Contacting Your Legislators


Nicole George

Nicole George Metro Councilwoman – District 21
Your electeds need to hear from you.  Far too often legislators receive either little outreach from constituents or hear from folks who aren’t fully representative of those they serve.  Below are some tips for ensuring your outreach is most impactful.

#1- Nothing is more important than a constituent!  First and foremost direct your outreach to your legislator.  While all outreach is important, the voice of a constituent often carries the most weight.

#2- Relationships matter.  In a world where there is far more work than can be accomplished we’re often compelled to go the extra step for those with whom we understand and have a connection.  Be strategic with any attempts to publicly shame and understand its consequences.

#3- Keep it simple.  One message per contact.  Bullet points are friends and the fewer words the better.  If a complicated issue can’t be communicated succinctly then request a meeting or call.

#4- Let your elected know what specific action you’d like them to take, particularly when it comes to problem solving.

#5- Remember that just because your outreach didn’t achieve its intended result didn’t mean it wasn’t important.  It does have the potential to influence the bigger picture and form a connection.