• Left to right: Dr. Tom Connors, vice president for finance; Irene LeFebvre, immediate past president; Barry Fitzgerald, vice president for county activities; Karen Cortellino, M.D., president; Jonathan Pushman, director of governmental relations; and Dr. Timothy Purnell, executive director and CEO, at Sen. Cory Booker's office in Washington, D.C.

On Tuesday, Jan. 30, the New Jersey School Boards Association’s officers, executive director and governmental relations staff visited Washington, D.C., to advocate before the state’s congressional delegation.

NJSBA President Karen Cortellino, M.D., Vice President for County Activities Barry Fitzgerald, Vice President for Legislation/Resolutions Chanta L. Jackson, Vice President for Finance Dr. Tom Connors and Immediate Past President Irene LeFebvre spent the day engaging in a series of robust discussions on how federal lawmakers can assist New Jersey’s local school districts in advancing the achievement of all public school students. They were joined by NJSBA Executive Director/CEO Dr. Timothy Purnell, Director of Governmental Relations Jonathan Pushman and Legislative Advocate Jesse Young.

By the end of the day, the NJSBA’s officers and staff met with members and personnel from seven of the state’s 12 congressional districts, including:

  • Congressman Josh Gottheimer (CD-05) and his staff.
  • Staff of Congressman Donald Norcross (CD-01).
  • Staff of Congressman Andy Kim (CD-03).
  • Staff of Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. (CD-06).
  • Staff of Congressman Thomas Kean Jr. (CD-07).
  • Staff of Congressman Bill Pascrell Jr. (CD-09).
  • Staff of Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill (CD-11).

They also met with policy staff from the office of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker.

“Our time in Washington, D.C was productive,” Purnell said. “We met with congressional representatives and staff from seven congressional districts as well as with staff from Sen. Cory Booker’s office to talk about the concerns of local boards of education. We discussed several pressing issues, including inadequate special education funding, the imperative for learning recovery support post-pandemic, and the growing need for student mental health resources. Addressing school staff shortages and ensuring equitable educational choices were also key topics, along with emphasizing the importance of universal school meals to support student well-being. We also had the opportunity to build positive ongoing relationships with our representatives in Washington, whose decisions have a strong impact on the classroom.”

Cortellino added, “Visiting our nation’s capital is an awesome experience. It can be exciting, powerful and emotional. So even in these times when our country seems divided, our day on Capitol Hill demonstrated unified school board members from New Jersey, and all over the country, speaking with one voice to advocate for the needs of all public school children. Our local school board members advocated effectively, and the children of New Jersey were well represented.”

Advocacy Priorities

During each of the meetings, the NJSBA had the opportunity to promote various federal advocacy priorities, such as:

  • Fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. While the IDEA stipulates that Congress should be funding 40% of the additional cost required to educate students with disabilities, current funding is at only 13%. 
  • Ensuring districts are equipped with the resources necessary to address learning loss and accelerate academic recovery.
  • Providing greater and sustained federal resources that expand access to mental health services and support, as well as funding to support school districts in hiring health professionals.
  • Implementing policies that empower districts to recruit and retain high quality staff to alleviate school staff shortages, such as loan forgiveness for teachers and principals.
  • Keeping public funds with public schools and opposing any federal efforts that divert public funds away from K-12 public education.
  • Promoting legislation and/or federal funding necessary to provide for a permanent universal free school meals program.