Policy Advocacy: A Tool for School Equity - Women's Foundation California

By Rose Larsen, Intern

Nina Alcaraz has worked with runaway pregnant teens in South Carolina, domestic violence survivors in China and rape victims in Monterey County.

When asked how this diverse background ties into her recent experience on the Healthy Youth Development team of our Women’s Policy Institute (WPI), she talked about her passion for equality for everyone from all walks of life.

“I’ve worked with youth in various capacities and that is the thread that unifies all my experiences,” she said. “I want everyone to have equal opportunities. I am trying to make sure that everybody has a possibility for a brighter future, despite their circumstances.”

Nina joined WPI, our policy training program, as one of five members on the Healthy Youth Development team. During their first retreat, they discussed what bill and what issue they wanted to work on. They decided on AB 2145 (Alejo and Dickinson).

Transparency in schools

AB 2145 struck a nerve with Nina because of her passion for equal opportunities for all.

This bill strives to make school discipline practices more transparent by requiring schools to report key indicators such as suspension and expulsion rates to the public.

“Different groups are disproportionately affected by school expulsion rates,” Nina said, noting that young men and boys of color have the highest rates.

Greater transparency would give advocates like Nina the concrete data they need to improve school policies, identify and fight discrimination in the classroom and support a positive school climate.

Policy advocacy is not as scary as you think

Through WPI, Nina has not only learned a lot about issues surrounding education and school discipline practices, but she has also gained invaluable experience in public policy and legislation.

“Now I understand the processes and the vocabulary better,” she said. “I understand what it takes to make these changes happen at a larger level for my community.”

But perhaps the most important thing that Nina has gained from her WPI experience has been confidence in her own power to affect change.

“Initially, I felt intimidated by the process, but there was no reason to be,” she said.

Now that she’s armed with the knowledge and confidence that WPI has given her, Nina feels prepared to help contribute to deciding which bills her organization, the Monterey County Rape Crisis Center should support and rally behind.

“I learned how important individual voices are, and how critical testimonies, letters and petitions are for the decision makers in Sacramento,” she added.

In fact, her time at WPI has even turned her into an evangelist of sorts. “I am now encouraging other people in my community to get more involved because policy advocacy is not as scary as you think.”

As AB 2145 goes through the Senate Appropriations committee, you can be sure that Nina and her team will be fighting passionately for its passage. Even though the bill’s passage won’t be easy, Nina isn’t giving up on her dream of equality for all: “All those tasks that go along with advocating for a cause are just the means to the end, and it’s worth it.”


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