By BOBBY J. RIGUES
The National School Boards Association’s 40th annual Federal Relations Network Conference was recently held in Washington, D.C. More than 700 school board members and school boards association leaders from across the nation were present for the three-day conference. The main objective was to urge our U.S. Congress to make public education a top priority.
As a community, most are familiar with the issues involving our local school district. At the state level, public education continues to make headlines. Since 2005, the broken system of school finance, equity and adequacy issues, $5.4 billion in educational cuts, and the largest education lawsuit have all been front page topics. Complicating matters, the current 83rd Legislative Session will find legislators introducing vouchers, taxpayer credits, charter schools, and other divisive options.
There is awareness by school board members concerning the growing threats to diminish our latitude of local control. Being knowledgeable of local and state educational issues is no longer sufficient to protecting our public schools.
Understanding educational issues at the national level has become equally critical. Beginning with our own school districts, protecting the value of public education and the pursuit for quality public schools is a battle cry across our nation.
Members of a community – mothers and fathers, grandparents, neighbors, business owners, local citizens of every type are all equal owners of our local public schools. Being informed about local, state, and federal policies that affect our children’s education actually protects our public educational system.
The Honorable Congresswoman Kay Granger, District 12 represents the western half of Tarrant County and all of Parker and Wise Counties. This includes 20 public school districts and a hand full of charter schools. Visiting with her Senior Policy Advisor Theresa Vawter, a line of communication for future dialogue was established and several key educational issues were discussed.
School funding is a major concern. A critical date is fast approaching. Unless Congress intervenes before March 1, 2013, federal cuts to public education from sequestration will total more than $3 billion this fiscal year. In addition, these cuts will continue over a 10-year period. The largest group of students affected will be those with the greatest needs - economically disadvantaged and with disabilities.
Reauthorization of an improved version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was also discussed. Today, known as the No Child Left Behind Act, it is the major federal law that supports K–12 public education in the United States. Currently flawed, an improved version would assist states and local school districts to increase the academic performance of all students enrolled in public schools regardless of economic status, race and ethnicity, proficiency in English or disability.
Another topic involves school board members and local control. All too often federal activities that reshape the educational delivery system impact local school districts beyond the specific intent of the law. As a result, we are asking legislation to recognize the benefits of local school district governance and protect the local decision-making process. Because we are responsible for implementing federal policies, Congress and the U.S. Department of Education should obtain meaningful input from local school boards.
The successes from public education are immeasurable. Delivering the diffusion of knowledge and skills to our children requires continuous effort of evaluating, improving, and protecting public schools – a shared responsibility. The best take-away line from the conference involves 10 words: If not now, then when? If not you, then who?
Bobby J. Rigues serves is the Aledo ISD Board President, a Leadership TASB Master Trustee and founder of the Make Education a Priority Initiative. He can be reached at Brigues@att.net.