Recently, a group of New Jersey school board members, along with NJSBA’s officers and Dr. Larry Feinsod, our executive director, attended the National School Boards Association’s Advocacy Institute.
I was proud of the nearly 40 New Jersey board members who took the time to learn about the federal-level issues impacting New Jersey’s local school districts. In addition to attending briefings on topics such as funding for special education and the 2020 Census and its impact on school funding, board members had the opportunity to visit Capitol Hill and speak with several of New Jersey’s congressional representatives.
We met with Representatives Donald Norcross (Dist. 1); Andy Kim (Dist. 3); Tom Malinowski (Dist. 7); and Mikie Sherrill (Dist. 11). In addition, staffers representing Congressmen Albio Sires (Dist. 8); Chris Smith (Dist. 4) and Frank Pallone Jr. (Dist. 6) met with board members, along with staff from the offices of Senators Cory Booker and Sen. Robert Menendez.
A small contingent also visited U.S. Department of Education officials to discuss funding for vocational and technical programming. This was a good time to talk about the topic, since the Perkins Act, which addresses career and technical education, was reauthorized last summer.
I especially enjoyed speaking with Rep. Norcross about career and technical education. In November I happened to see Norcross, an electrician by trade and a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), on the PBS television program, “This Old House.” On that program, he spoke with vo-tech students about the importance of apprenticeships, and he assisted with electrical work. Not surprisingly, he is a firm supporter of vocational-technical training.
The meetings we had with our elected representatives underscored the importance of reaching out to state and federal officials to advocate for public education.
All board members should consider that part of their job as a school official is to advocate for their district’s students. Legislators have often told me that they don’t hear from school board members enough. In my experience, elected officials may be unaware of how certain legislation may affect local districts, or what resources could be made available to schools.
I recommend going to meetings ready to discuss suggested solutions to problems, rather than just describing difficulties. In nearly every meeting I’ve attended with elected officials, they have the same question for board members: What should be done about this?
It is also important to get a cross section of people from your district to join you in your advocacy outreach efforts. Elected officials like to hear from administrators, parents and students about issues of concern.
An ideal place to start learning more about advocacy is NJSBA’s annual Legislative Day, scheduled for Thursday, May 16. Plans are being firmed up for the annual conference, which is co-sponsored with the New Jersey PTA. Details will be forthcoming in School Board Notes.
It is important to make our voices heard in Trenton and in Washington D.C. Our children deserve no less.