I spent the first weekend of February – only ten days after the inauguration and just as negotiations were beginning over the economic stimulus package - at the Federal Relations Network (FRN) conference in Washington, D.C.. It was an extraordinary time to be in the capitol.
The FRN is the branch of the National School Boards Association that is responsible for influencing federal education policy. Having school board members from across the country speaking with nearly every legislator, on the same day, is a good way to have an impact.
School board members make unusual ‘lobbyists’ in that they don’t typically speak as partisans or on their own behalf. Because they are seldom endorsed by political parties when they run for office, they are not beholden to a particular political perspective.
For example, school board members are not necessarily aligned with the teacher unions, with whom they have to negotiate every few years. Rather, they represent the entire education community, students in particular.
It’s essential that our representatives in Harrisburg and Washington hear from constituents who are not only well-informed, but who also understand the impact that state and federal policy has at the level of the local school. It doesn’t hurt that we share with them the perspective and experience of being an elected official. Considering the overwhelming spectrum of issues about which our representatives need to be knowledgeable, I don’t think you can overstate the value of providing them with an opportunity to hear a perspective that is relatively unbiased.
I’m of the opinion that while school board members are primarily accountable to their local communities, we are also citizens – as is everyone - of the broader community, and therefore we have a responsibility to be engaged at the state and national level. It’s part of how we create an informed national education policy.