The erosion of local school board authority is on the minds of many board members these days, and NSBA has responded with the Local School Board Governance and Flexibility Act, which seeks to rein in the U.S. Department of Education’s use of rules and regulations to intrude on the role of local school policymakers.
“What local school boards need is the flexibility and freedom to govern education in a way that reflects the needs and values of their own local community,” Michael A. Resnick, NSBA’s associate executive director for federal advocacy and public policy, told attendees at Saturday’s National Network Luncheon at NSBA’s annual conference.
The federal government has engaged in “significant overreach” in the past decade, he said. No longer content to administer federal legislation, federal officials are attempting to implement their own policy agenda.
One strategy to accomplish this has been to write grant rules and regulations so officials can use the promise of federal funding to encourage states and school districts to experiment with charter schools, close so-called failing schools, and adopt unproven teacher evaluation systems.
It’s a carrot-and-stick approach that undermines local school governance and representative democracy, he said. “You as board members represent your community. Our legislation is intended to rectify that problem.”
To do that, the bill, H.R. 1386, would limit the U.S. Department of Education’s authority to issue rules and regulations that impact local schools unless these rules are required to implement federal legislation—and it limits unfunded mandates or rules that unduly conflict with the authority of the school board, Resnick said.
The bill also would require a 60-day comment period so that school boards and others in the education community can comment on the impact of any new rules, and it puts additional restrictions on the department before any rules go into effect.
All of this is necessary because the continuing federal intrusion is a slow but increasing threat to local school board authority, Resnick says. “I liken it to the frog in the kettle. You put it in and turn up the heat one degree at a time, and the frog never realizes he’s being cooked.”
“We believe we’ve got to stand up at this point and really stop this erosion of local control right now.”
Asked about progress on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Resnick was cautious in making predictions. He said that, although there are legislators working to push the legislation forward, there are complex and fundamental issues to the law that lawmakers are still debating.
That said, NSBA would continue to lobby for Congress to act—and deal with a number of issues that would improve provisions of the law for local school boards.
He also encouraged school board members to take a more active role in this lobbying effort. Although NSBA will makes its presence felt on Capitol Hill, “when it comes to the lobbying process, members of Congress are more responsive to the people they’re familiar with.”
So it’s critical that board members, working in conjunction with their state school board associations, “really make a point of telling their federal representatives how necessary this legislation is.”