By Bill Scott
KSBA Executive Director
Since the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act by Congress in 1965 the federal government has consistently increased its influence and control over state and local education agencies. Currently, 13.5 percent of Kentucky’s public school budget comes from the federal government (including American Recovery and Reinvestment Act appropriations). This covers an increased number of Kentucky Department of Education employees who are funded with federal dollars, mostly due to the increase in federal funding from ARRA stimulus funds.
Despite this federal role, most state school board associations, including KSBA, don’t have adequate governmental relations resources to focus on both state and federal decision makers. This is why the National School Boards Association’s Office of Advocacy has become an essential partner in KSBA’s efforts to monitor and influence Congress and the U.S. Department of Education. The primary purpose of NSBA was, and always has been, representing and protecting the interests of local school districts at the federal level. For example, NSBA was instrumental in securing the recently announced waiver process from the U.S. Department of Education – a waiver process that fits Kentucky’s new accountability model.
Given the precarious nature of the federal budget and the impending reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (the most recent version of ESEA), the lobbying resources of NSBA have never been more important to the interests of KSBA and our members. KSBA’s governmental relations team relies on NSBA to provide important updates on the actions of Congress and the U.S. Department of Education. In recent months NSBA, in partnership with state associations, has been offering Congressional leaders a wide range of recommendations to improve NCLB, including:
• Adequate Title 1 and IDEA funding for all districts vs. competitive grant programs like Race To The Top
• Elimination of school and district sanctions contained in NCLB
• Increased flexibility in assessing students with limited English language
• Holding districts accountable for student growth instead of an all-or-nothing approach
• Elimination of charter schools as one of the Race to the Top’s requirements
• More flexibility for local school districts in addressing persistently low-achieving schools
NSBA’s advocacy office has been a strong partner on many other issues, including the new school nutrition requirements imposed by the federal government. In recent weeks NSBA was successful in securing relief from these new regulations. Many Kentucky school food service directors were concerned about the new requirements in this legislation, and they will now have some flexibility in operating their school lunch programs.
The federal government’s involvement in education may change, but it will not go away. To ensure the best possible outcomes, we need to continue to work closely with NSBA in our ongoing communications with Kentucky’s Congressional delegation.
Local board legislative contacts play crucial role
Recently I shared correspondence with all superintendents asking them to request that their local board nominate one member to serve as a legislative contact. I’m pleased to say that, as of this writing, we have already received responses from more than half of the districts. This network of local board members will work closely with KSBA and our partners in the upcoming sessions of the Kentucky General Assembly as well as the U.S. Congress. Legislative contacts will be responsible for:
• Reporting to fellow board members the legislative information provided by KSBA and NSBA.
• Developing relationships with their state and federal legislators to increase the board’s influence on legislation being considered by the General Assembly and Congress.
• Staying in touch with their legislators and meeting with them regularly on legislative issues.
• Inviting legislators to board meetings to interact with their local school board on critical issues and potential legislation.
Because all politics are truly local, we will depend heavily on the grassroots network of these legislative contacts to protect and support Kentucky’s public schools.