I’ve just returned from a week of meetings with educational leaders and key congressional staff members in the nation’s capital.  Washington, DC, is an amazing city, rich with historic and cultural sites and full of federal decision-makers, who have far more impact on our schools than we often realize.

To confirm this, one need only recognize that many of New Jersey’s educational initiatives are closely aligned with the philosophy of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.  In his presentation to the National School Boards Association’s Federal Relations Network (FRN) last week, Secretary Duncan discussed with us his beliefs and the educational policies of the current administration.   The Secretary addressed increasing academic standards, expanding school choice, closing the achievement gap, and improving teacher evaluations.  All are worthy goals; all are reflected in our work in New Jersey.

During his talk, Secretary Duncan heard from the local school board members in attendance—including your Association’s Officers and a contingent of New Jersey board members.  They expressed concern about federal mandates without funding and the need to maintain the school board’s central role in our children’s education.  The dialogue was positive…and to the point.

I joined the NJSBA’s Officers and the FRN delegation as we explored critical issues with the educational policy staffs of our state’s two U.S. Senators and 12 Congressional representatives.  Action we advocated included—

●    Increased special education grants under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which is a critical goal because of local school districts’ difficulty in raising property tax revenue;

●    A long-term solution to the sequestration issue that will also avert across-the-board cuts to federal educational program funding, and

●    Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was last authorized in 2002 in the form of No Child Left Behind and still retains ineffective and costly requirements.

For me, this past week in Washington demonstrated the federal government’s influence over local school districts and classrooms. I urge you to become more involved in federal advocacy.  Contact Sharon Seyler, NJSBA legislative coordinator/advocacy programs, at [email protected] for more information.

As I’ve said before, our presence in the political arena—in both Trenton and Washington—will ultimately determine the education our children receive in the years ahead.

These are my Reflections. I look forward to hearing yours. Contact me at [email protected].