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In 1897, Alice McLellan Birney and Phoebe Apperson Hearst recognized the need for a national advocacy organization to speak on behalf of children. The two women founded the National Congress of Mothers, which later came to be known as the Parent Teacher Association (PTA), with a founding group of over 2,000 concerned parents, teachers, legislators, and laborers. Today, over six million volunteers participate in PTA sponsored activities around the United States, working hard to improve schools and the general quality of life for children at the local, state, and federal levels.
All local PTAs are members of the state PTA, which is linked with the national organization. The national PTA helps to provide local PTAs with information, resources, and clout, and also works on a federal level to advocate for children in the Capitol. Donations to the national PTA, which is a registered non-profit organization, are used to support the advocacy efforts of the PTA, along with dues paid by members and local chapters. Any adult who is concerned about child welfare can join a local PTA, although the members are primarily parents and teachers of children at all levels of education, economic class, and ability.
The primary goal of the PTA is to be an advocate for children in their communities and in front of regulatory agencies. For example, in its early years, the national PTA helped to establish child labor laws and a juvenile justice system, along with school lunch programs, kindergarten, and public immunization programs. The PTA also offers support to parents who are trying to raise healthy, happy children in safe environments by improving public safety and health, and lobbying in support of laws which protect children. PTAs around the nation also bring parents and teachers together in a cooperative effort to talk about education, the well being of children, and safe communities.
On a local basis, a PTA is vital. Members of the local PTA decide which programs would benefit their communities and carry them out. Parents may engage in fundraising activity, lobby a city council about important proposed measures, help to establish after school reading programs, or work together to provide children with sound nutrition and education about food, for example. These regional PTAs are autonomous, and can do whatever they think is necessary to improve their communities, although they often consult the national PTA to take advantage of experiences in other communities. The national PTA can also lend assistance to local organizations when they are unable to meet challenges on their own, drawing on over 100 years of experience, legal expertise, and caring for children.