Whether we like it or not — as it is in so many things in life — politics is a reality when we talk about education.

That is why it is critically important that the New Jersey School Boards Association has a seat at the table, when new laws and regulations are being proposed and considered.

I am happy to say that we do have a seat at the table.  Members have often heard me speak of the importance of relationship-building, and the NJSBA governmental relations team has established excellent relationships with members of the governor’s staff, members of the state Senate and Assembly and with the New Jersey Department of Education. Our team is highly respected and every day they put forth positions that are important to school board members and to quality education.

But sometimes people misunderstand when I say that we have a seat at the table and think that it means we get whatever we want.

I define a seat at the table as having a voice, being listened to and having influence. That doesn’t mean our views carry the day every time. Advocacy is a mixture of victories and defeats, good days and bad days.

Obviously, we strive to have more good days than bad days — and I believe we accomplish that. But only the naive would think that effective individuals in governmental relations secure victories all time.

There are also times when a victory doesn’t mean getting a bill passed. At times, it means making clear to lawmakers the potential negative effects of proposed legislation and blocking those bills.

A recent example of such a proposal was S-4248/A-6217, which would have permitted the enactment of laws that would impose unfunded mandates on boards of education and other local governing bodies. NJSBA strongly opposed the legislation and encouraged board members to contact their representatives and urge them to oppose it as well.  Many local board members heeded NJSBA’s email alert and contacted their Senate and Assembly representatives.

The bill, which was scheduled for an Assembly floor vote right before Christmas, was pulled from the list of bills being voted upon. It is possible that the bill could resurface, so NJSBA continues to monitor this and all legislation.  Advocacy also takes eternal vigilance.

The course this bill took is also testimony to the power of local board members, and the importance of getting involved in advocating for education. There is nothing more effective than board members speaking to their local lawmakers — as local elected officials, as influential community members, as advocates for schools and as constituents.

January 2022 began a new two-year session for the state Legislature, and with it, new opportunities to influence legislation.  This issue of School Leader shines a spotlight on the topic of advocacy and how board members can make an impact. Read the article, titled “Advocacy Toolkit.”