Over 9,000 delegates representing some 95,000 local school board members attended the National School Boards Association conference in Orlando on April 1-4. Just 14 of them showed up for the Federal Lobbying Update session. And even they needn’t have bothered: The presentation and the materials in the Association’s Legislative Briefing booklet never deviated from the well-known agenda of the teacher unions and the Democratic party.
According to a report on the conference issued by the Education Policy Institute, there was strong “in the trenches” support for a school board agenda different from the unions’. Scores of school board members expressed concern to EPI staff about the political power of the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, particularly the unions’ ability to elect school board members who control contract negotiations.
According to a handout provided at the meeting, the 2000 NSBA Legislative Agenda includes:
- strengthening schools by defeating voucher proposals that undermine public education;
- increasing spending on education to improve student achievement; and
- supporting reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
In the ESEA reauthorization, NSBA opposes Title 1 portability, state flexibility, and public school choice programs such as charter schools. However, the Association supports the Clinton administration’s $1.3 billion school construction plan and wants Congress to increase funding for special education services. At the same time, NSBA opposes GOP legislation for education savings accounts and for giving parents options to improve student achievement by seeking tutorial services outside the public education system.
While the NSBA lobbyists praised the expansion of vouchers for higher education promoted by the Clinton administration, they denied the usefulness of vouchers for parents and students in K-12 public schools. They also set forth lengthy explanations as to why three education measures favored by the Republican-majority Congress–K-12 education IRAs, portability of some education funding, and opportunity scholarships–would lead to vouchers and “drain public funds from public schools.”
Education savings accounts–recently passed by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee–would allow families to save up to $2,000 per year for public or private K-12 education expenses. NEA lobbyist Lori Meyer maintained that if passed into law, the federal government would lose $5 billion over 10 years, “money that could have been used to support public schools.” However, according to the EPI conference report, Meyer and other NSBA lobbyists were stumped by a logic question from an attendee, who asked how NSBA could assume that the $5 billion would be used for public schools and not for other federal programs.
A math question from another attendee also baffled the lobbyists: When students attend private schools, their parents still pay taxes to support public schools. If more students attend private schools, won’t public schools have more money per student?
Citizen’s Handbook Now Available
Education Policy Institute Chairman Myron Lieberman’s latest book, Understanding the Teacher Union Contract: A Citizen’s Handbook (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2000; $29.95 hardcover, $19.95 softcover) was released in March. Information about the book and the EPI Series on Teacher Unions is available from EPI’s Web site at http://www.educationpolicy.org or by calling EPI at 202/244-7535.
George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News.