NSBA lobbyists are hard at work explaining to Congress the many challenges facing local school boards—and how federal policy should be shaped to help local officials do their jobs better.
But members of Congress also care what their constituents have to say, so it’s vitally important that individual school board members make their voices heard by communicating personally with their elected representatives.
That was the message of NSBA’s advocacy team, which offered a briefing on federal education policymaking during Wednesday’s National Affiliate webinar, “The Power of One: What You Can Do to Change What is Happening on Capitol Hill.”
“We can’t do it alone,” moderator Kathleen Branch, NSBA’s director of national advocacy service programs, told participants early in the webinar. “We need you to join us … to become a resource for your members of Congress.”
To prepare school board members for that task, members of NSBA’s advocacy team offered a summary of legislative and regulatory efforts in the nation’s capital—and how those efforts could impact local school districts.
One of the most important legislative efforts under way today is the long-overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, said Reginald Felton, assistant executive director for congressional relations.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, lawmakers are tackling the reauthorization through a series of bills, and one promising proposal would give local school officials more flexibility and authority over the use of federal education funding, Felton reported.
Less promising was the recent passage of the Empowering Parents Through Quality Charter Schools Act, which NSBA argued was approved without sufficient review and raises concerns about how much accountability will be demanded of charter schools.
Lawmakers also are talking about consolidating several federal education programs, which is not necessarily a bad thing, Felt said. But there also is a move to expand competitive block grants, at the expense of categorical programs.
That concerns NSBA because many school systems do not have the resources to compete with larger or more affluent districts in writing grant proposals.
It’s important that NSBA and local school boards continue their efforts to influence Congress and shape policy that’s in the best interest of local schoolchildren, Felton said. “We continue to lobby members of Congress, but we’re pleased when you come to Washington and help that dialogue—or you meet with members of Congress when they’re home in your communities. We need to keep the pressure on.”
Later, Deborah Rigsby, NSBA’s director of federal legislation, briefed webinar participants about the debate on Capitol Hill over the federal budget—and the need to urge Congress to protect funding for education.
“For 2011, K-12 programs were cut by $849 million,” she said. “But they were already underfunded, so we don’t want to go [through another round] of addition cuts for fiscal 2012.”
Finally, Lucy Gettman, director of federal programs, talked about the potential impact of the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids—last year’s reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act—and new regulations for school meal programs that could force local school districts to raise meal prices.
At least one school system already is looking to raise the price of school milk by as much as 25 cents, she says. “What we’re very concerned about at NSBA is the impact on children and families who can ill afford a price increase [in school meals] but, conversely, about the impact on school districts … if districts are required to supplement or offset a price increase with their own state and local funds.”
Concluding the webinar, Branch yet again encouraged listeners to become more involved in lobbying federal policymakers, and she shared a number of resources that NSBA makes available for board members who are new to education advocacy work. And she encouraged board members to participate in the National Affiliate Advocacy Network.
Finally, she said, if board members aren’t certain what to say about today’s complex policy issues, they can just call her. “That is what NSBA is here for.”