Diocesan teens lobby in Albany - Catholic Courier

Diocesan teens lobby in Albany

Katie Kremer and Danielle Schenone, eighth-graders at Elmira’s Holy
Family Junior High School, traveled 200 miles to Albany March 9 to tell
their state legislators about the potholes in the floor of their
school’s gymnasium.

As part of the New York State Catholic Conference’s annual Public
Policy Forum, the two 13-year-olds — along with their religion
teacher, Theresa McNamara — met with their state representatives to
lobby for more funding for Catholic education, among other issues.

Parental choice in education is an objective on this year’s NYSCC
agenda, so Katie, Danielle and McNamara rehearsed their arguments in
support of the measure as they waited to go through metal detectors
before entering the capitol building. Once they and seven other
lobbyists made it into the office of Assemblyman Gary Finch, who
represents portions of Tioga and Cayuga counties, McNamara introduced
the students and let them have their say.

“If we have the voucher system, then everyone can have a choice and
parents can decide where to send their kids,” said Danielle, referring
to the NYSCC’s suggestion to enact a program of vouchers, scholarships
and tax credits to make it possible for all parents, regardless of
financial status, to select the most appropriate schools for their
children. The objective also would provide sufficient instructional
materials, equipment and support to all students and teachers at
public, private and religious schools.

Since it costs more than $12,000 a year to send a child to public
school, the 500,000 children enrolled in religious and private schools
save taxpayers approximately $6 billion each year, Katie said, citing a
statistic from the NYSCC’s fact sheet.

“What we’re asking is that some of that money be directed to private
schools. We have a gym floor with potholes in it,” Katie said.

Although Finch couldn’t promise anything, Katie and Danielle said
they were impressed with the sincerity with which he seemed to listen
to and consider their position.

“He’s not completely opinion-based; he’s willing to listen to other
people. He knows he can’t just base it on religion; he needs a
political objective,” Katie said.

“He seemed pretty well-versed. It’s great to be able to express what
you think as someone’s listening,” Danielle added.

Both girls said they were surprised by how informal the lobbying
session was, and that other lobbyists called him by his first name.

Melanie Mancuso, 17, went to Albany with two other teens from Holy
Name of Jesus Parish in Greece. She lobbied in front of Assemblywoman
Susan John, who represents part of Monroe County, about the need to
ensure adequate funding and equity for behavioral health services.
Melanie said she was nervous before meeting with the assemblywoman, but
calmed down once she saw that John seemed to be genuinely listening and
concerned.

“I was so blown away. It was a phenomenal learning experience. I
really got to know how the government worked and how things were done,”
said Melanie, who said she would like to lobby again if she gets the
chance.

Samantha Hess, 15, was one of eight students from Geneva’s DeSales
High School who made the trip to Albany. It was her first time
lobbying, and it was an eye-opening experience for her.

“I didn’t even know some of these things were going on. You learn a
lot about the government and the way things are (done). It gives you a
better picture of things,” Samantha said.

All eight of the DeSales students and 10 adults from the region met
with Sen. Michael Nozzolio to talk about a variety of issues, including
Catholic-school education. The senator, who represents parts of Monroe,
Wayne, Seneca, Tompkins, Ontario and Cayuga counties, gave students the
opportunity to each tell him their favorite part of attending a
Catholic school.

“I think he was really sincere in his answers and he actually gave
answers to the specific questions,” said Charlie Beall, 17. “You really
have to experience (lobbying) for yourself.”

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