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If your children come home from school complaining about their thumbs hurting, you will know the PTA is conducting their annual membership drive. No, they don't actually have thumbscrews, but their tactics are equally coercive and perhaps as cruel for the child whose parents don't want to join.

Here is what they do at Union Middle School. Free soda pop is offered when the student returns the completed application. Then a party is given for those whose parents have joined. Other schools have similar incentives, post lists of those who joined, and even go so far as to say they won't have a party unless every child in the class complies. What a disgusting way to treat children."So, what is wrong with the PTA?" Well, other than their Gestapo recruiting tactics, on a local level, there isn't much wrong. They have lots of good activities and help with school functions, but once you go beyond the local schools, their efforts are almost entirely centered on political issues. They are one of the most active lobbying groups on Capitol Hill. They appear to be an extension of the teachers' union. They primarily push for higher taxes and spending. My legislator has told me their pressure on him is unbelievable.

Their lobbying effort is the main reason that they push so hard for membership. They like to say that they represent 97 percent of all parents. The sad truth is, that although they may have 97 percent membership, they truly represent almost no one but the UEA.

They never ask parents for their input on legislative issues. They don't even ask for their input on local leaders. Local PTA leaders are appointed by a close-knit board. Then the one name is presented for approval. There is no voting, just take it or leave it.

I asked our local PTA president how she felt about the PTA's activities on Capitol Hill. She said she knew absolutely nothing about them. Even if she, as local PTA president, wanted to represent the parents, she wouldn't have much input.

It is interesting to note that the PTA's charter specifically states that political activities are only to be a very small part of their overall operations. If the PTA can't do a conscientious and objective job of representing their members, they should keep off Capitol Hill altogether.

P.K. Ruplinger