Monday, March 03, 2008

NJSBA -- Federal Relations Network

At the Feb. 5 “Day on the Hill” are (left to right) William Barnaskas, president of the Lyndhurst Board of Education; Sharon Seyler, legislative coordinator of advocacy programs for NJSBA; Alice Gale, member of the Maple Shade Board of Education; Dana Richter, senior legislative assistant for Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo; John Bulina, NJSBA’s vice president for finance; Eva M. Nagy, NJSBA’s vice president for legislation/resolutions; and Frank J. Gwalthney, president of the Woodbury Board of Education.

Our Board President, Frank Gwalthney, was one of New Jersey School Board Association's (NJSBA) representatives in Washington, D.C. this past February. Mr. Gwalthney gave a report at our last board meeting on the need to stay involved with the political process and to encourage full federal funding for programs mandated by federal legislation.

(The story below appeared in a weekly newsletter sent out by the NJSBA)

School Board Notes
February 14, 2008 • Vol. XXXI • No. 25

About two dozen New Jersey school board members, NJSBA officers and staff traveled to Washington, D.C. for the annual Federal Relations Network (FRN) conference, a three-day advocacy and training program for board of education members.

Sponsored by the National School Boards Association, the FRN conference attracted 943 school officials from throughout the nation to Washington on Feb. 3 to 5.

NCLB Tops Agenda The main topic? Urging legislators to support House Resolution 648, the No Child Left Behind Improvements Act.

This bill includes provisions that would give states more flexibility dealing with the requirements of NCLB. For instance, it would:

Use several measures of achievement, rather than solely relying on standardized testing;

Implement more effective accountability measures for English language learners and students with disabilities; and

Establish common-sense approaches when applying sanctions.

Speakers at the FRN conference discussed the political climate in the nation, and training seminars addressed issues ranging from federal funding to improving lobbying skills. The final part was the “Day on the Hill,” where New Jersey’s school board members, NJSBA officers and lobbyists split into groups to meet with legislative aides representing the state’s Senators and Congressional representatives.

Federal Education Funding Participants also discussed issues such as increasing the federal investment in public education. The issue is particularly important to New Jersey, considering the federal government’s low level of funding. According to the National Education Association’s 2006-07 Rankings & Estimates report, only 3.3 percent of New Jersey’s education funding comes from the federal government—the lowest ratio in the nation; the national average is nearly 9 percent.

To bolster federal support, NSBA urges Congress to provide a $2.5 billion increase in Title 1 funding, which is NCLB’s main funding source. In addition, NSBA is calling for a $2.5 billion increase for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)—a program to which Congress promised 40-percent funding when it was established three decades ago, but which has only been funded at less than half that amount.

Federal, state and local funding is shaping up to be a major concern nationally, as about half of the states face budget shortfalls. Bleak predictions of local revenues due to declining real estate values lead school board members in many states to expect tighter school budgets.

NSBA also seeks to prevent the administration from cutting Medicaid reimbursement to local school districts for the costs of providing school-based administrative and transportation services to low-income children with disabilities.

The Association also aims to improve teacher quality by adding flexibility to NCLB’s “Highly Qualified Teacher” requirements; supporting the recruitment, training and retention of teachers in hard-to-staff schools and high-need subjects; and strengthening teacher preparation programs through the Higher Education Act.

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