/ Modified mar 5, 2018 11:34 a.m.

Student Lobbying Efforts Double as Civics Lesson

A Tucson high school is getting a first-hand look at the legislative process.

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When you were younger, how did you learn about the legislative process? If you grew up in the 1970s and 80s watching Saturday morning cartoons, at least part of your education probably came from School House Rock's "I'm Just a Bill." You can probably even still at least sing the refrain.

Maybe you learned it from a civics or government class in high school

Seniors in Steve Painter's government class at Sky Island High School in Tucson are taking their education out of books and into the legislative arena.

They are following the progress of a bill and actively lobbying for it.

"Students here are going to be benefiting because they got that knowledge of the governmental process. So I don't think before it started that they knew anything about a majority whip or a majority leader or a minority leader and what roles they play," said Painter.

The bill proposed by Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, would give teachers cash to buy school supplies. Engel visited the class before the legislative session began.

Since then, the class has sent emails to state lawmakers advocating for the passage of the bill. There was even a trip to the Capitol.

"We were actually up there for Environmental Day and while we were there we also snuck in and mentioned the bills, the education bills we were working on," said Sky Island senior Brenan Lewellyn.

"It was heartwarming to know that they look at us and they care. And face to face they are really on our level," he said.

When Painter first announced the assignment, not all of his students were on board.

"I was very skeptical at first," admitted Ashley Roberts. "They get thousands of letters. Why would they take the time to read some high schooler's email? But after hearing that they took it into consideration, I am pleasantly surprised and I am glad to be proven wrong."

The student's efforts paid off, when after the initial letter writing campaign, the House Education committee took the bill up.

But the class is not just about lobbying it is about the entire governmental process.

"I didn't know any of the steps to do it and now I pretty much know all of them and it is a lot harder than I thought it would be," said student Kahlo Vezino.

The class learned a tough lesson about lawmaking when the bill became stuck in the House Appropriations Committee.

But Representative Engel was able to amend it on to a similar proposal sponsored by her Republican seat mate Rep. Todd Clodfelter. His proposal gives teachers a tax credit for purchased supplies.

The bipartisan nature of the bill didn't help, the House voted the bill down. But parliamentary moves were made to get a second vote.

That meant the letter writing campaign revved up again, this time to get the bill reconsidered.

"So we are lobbying the main people, the majority leader, the minority leader, and the two cosponsors to ask them to help push everyone to be like, 'Hey reconsider this bill we want this to be happening, we want to help teachers," explained Ashley Roberts.

The bill has one more week to be voted on a second time.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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