School board members have watched the efforts to privatize public education through vouchers and charter schools, and they’ve seen the authority of local school governance eroded by the decisions of state and federal policymakers.
They’ve also watched public education put on the defensive in national debates—and heard the arguments that the nation’s public schools are failing and school boards are obstacles to reform.
But none of this will go unchallenged in the future, NSBA’s new president, David A. Pickler, told attendees at the closing General Session of the annual conference.
There is, he said, a “new NSBA” in the works that will be “the most relevant and responsive organization possible as we advocate in Washington, D.C., in state capitols across this country, and in service of our state association members.”
The time has come, he said, “to change the conversation—to shape the debate, to challenge the convention wisdom, to confront those who seek to control the agenda, to privatize, to profit, and to usurp” the role of local school governance.
How will this happen? The NSBA Board of Directors has focused significant energies over the past few years to reform, restructure, and create your national organization, he said. The board has worked hard to ensure that NSBA will be more fiscally viable, organizationally efficient, and operationally effective.
That’s an early step to taking on a more decisive role in education policymaking in this country —to make the decision to act, he said. “We must decide the time is now.”
The next step is to “transform NSBA’s advocacy and member service culture to ensure that we are engaging our members with open, transparent, two-way communication—that we are aligning and focusing our resources to maximum impact.”
The nation’s 90,000 school board members are influential community members, each of whom has a constituency and political connections and access to more than 50 million schoolchildren.
“We must harness [this] power,” Pickler said. “Can you imagine the impact of an army of public education advocates representing over 100 million parents and family members, most of whom are registered voters? We could be one of—if not the—most significant political voices in America.”
NSBA doesn’t have that influence yet, but the first steps are being taken, he said. One early step is the Local School Board Governance and Flexibility Act (H.R. 1386), recently introduced in Congress, that seeks to limit the authority of the U.S. Department of Education to impose rules and regulations that usurp the rightful policymaking decisions of local school leaders.
Another step is plans to create a strike force “to battle legislative and legal issues in states across American [and provide] resources and personnel to partner with our state association members
Over the course of NSBA’s conference, attendees have had the opportunity to see—and be inspired—by the National 9/11 Flag that’s been on display—a symbol, Pickler said, of the nation’s ability to rise to any challenge. “It is a symbol of the indomitable American spirit.”
That spirit exists in school board members, he said. “We as public education leaders have a responsibility to join the fight for this unique American institution of public education … to fight for the civil rights of each child… to fight for local decision-making for local schools.”
The reality is that the critics of public education are wrong—public education is not failing, it is a success, he said. And now NSBA intends to make the facts clear. And it intends to have a seat at the table whenever there is a debate on the future of public education.
“NSBA will shape and lead the debate on public education, promoting our agenda to strengthen public schools and local school board governance, while actively opposing those who strive to privatize education,” Pickler said.
NSBA, he concluded, will be that strong “voice for public education—that relevant and significant change agent to ensure that our public schools empower our nation to fulfill our awesome potential. Together, we can change the world—one child at a time. Together, we can do it.”