Executive Perspective

An Expanded Principle in Our Advocacy
By Daniel A. Domenech/School Administrator, April 2017

AASA’s Executive Committee meets in January each year to develop our legislative agenda. The association’s governance structure guarantees that every region of our country is represented and can provide input into the development of that agenda.

At last month’s National Conference on Education in New Orleans, AASA’s Governing Board, 130 superintendents representing our seven regions, voted to approve the legislative agenda. This member-driven process provides our advocacy team with its “marching orders” on which they can rely when on Capitol Hill. It’s designed to ensure our team is speaking on behalf of AASA members. It is that capacity to speak with one voice that has given AASA the clout we enjoy in Washington, D.C.

This year, with the leadership changes that have occurred in Washington, it is particularly important that our message be clear. Our advocacy team, consisting of Noelle Ellerson Ng, Sasha Pudelski and Leslie Finnan, has done an outstanding job working with Congress to help shape education policy. During the past two years, we worked with the education community to secure passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act and to negotiate the rules and regulations that will guide the law’s implementation. Other advocacy victories include E-rate modernization and the raising of education spending caps.

Local Control
Our guiding principles are expanding significantly this year, driven by concerns that the new administration may place unwelcome emphasis on the expansion of choice, vouchers and charter schools at the expense of funding for public education. The new principle states that privatization of public education funding undermines our nation’s public school system, denies equitable educational opportunity and represents failed federal policy.

AASA is supportive of choice, vouchers and charter schools when they are implemented under the leadership of local school boards and superintendents. When these elements fall outside of local district control, they siphon local dollars away from the public schools and leave behind students with inadequate resources. Short of that, we would want assurance that all entities receiving public dollars are subject to the same transparency, reporting and accountability requirements.

To the role of the federal government in education, we added the U.S. secretary of education as someone who must support and strengthen — not dictate and prescribe to — the nation’s schools, states and local policies. We worked hard for the passage of ESSA to restore an appropriate balance of education authority between the federal, state and local levels, including a shift away from an overly prescriptive federal role.

New to our agenda this year is support for expanding access to affordable early college education, including extended control over requirements for awarding educator credentials. For several years, AASA has partnered with the American Association of Community Colleges to convene community college presidents and superintendents to stimulate growth of dual-enrollment and early college programs that allow high school students to graduate with an associate degree. Limiting the growth of these programs are questions such as who pays for them and who is certified to teach the courses so college credit may be granted.

With growing concerns over potential changes to Medicaid, we want to preserve the current financing structure to ensure eligible mental health services in schools are reimbursable. We also want to preserve the Children’s Health Insurance Program. AASA has worked closely with the Children’s Defense Fund to identify thousands of students without health insurance who are eligible for CHIP. Our two organizations developed an online toolkit to assist districts with the identification work, and we promoted it at an event attended by the U.S. secretaries of education and health.

Equitable Access
Last December, I was privileged to be reappointed to the board of the Universal Service Administrative Company, the organization charged with administering the E-rate for the FCC. I also was elected by my board colleagues to chair the Schools and Libraries Committee.

AASA supports flexibility of federal resources to ensure equitable access to affordable broadband for our students in and out of school. The importance of the E-rate as a source of education funding cannot be discounted at a time when our schools are quickly mobilizing to make the digital leap. Personalized learning is highly dependent on online technology.

The legislative agenda is much more extensive than the items outlined here. The full agenda can be accessed on AASA’s website. This will be a busy year for our advocacy team, but working together with members will ensure the best interests of our students are protected. You can follow the latest AASA advocacy updates on The Leading Edge policy blog.

Daniel Domenech is AASA executive director. E-mail: ddomenech@aasa.org. Twitter: @AASADan