The Last Word July/August 2013

By David Pickler

This is a particularly exciting year to take the reins as NSBA President. I am excited and energized to work with our new Executive Director, Tom Gentzel, and to see his vision for this organization take hold.

We are living in times of exponential change in NSBA, and the opportunities that lay ahead are incredible. You’ve probably already heard about what we’re calling the New NSBA in this column and at NSBA events. The NSBA Board of Directors has worked to restructure and recreate our organization. Under the leadership of Tom and our new Chief Operating Officer Marie Bilik, we are transforming NSBA’s internal operations to establish structure that is efficient, effective, and fiscally viable.

We now must transform NSBA’s external advocacy and outreach to meet challenges at the federal, state, and local levels. Chief among these are efforts to privatize our nation’s public schools through charter school expansion and taxpayer-funded school vouchers.

Charters remain an unproven experiment. And while we embrace the right of each parent to have a choice for their child’s education, taxpayer-funded school vouchers represent a subsidization of private schools with public school dollars. Neither charter schools nor voucher programs require the same accountability that is imposed on our public schools. Another challenge is federal regulators’ growing encroachment into local school board governance.

Now is the time to change the conversation about public education and school board governance. We know our public schools are not failing --  each of us witnesses their tremendous accomplishments taking place each day. As school board members and community leaders, we must take a stand for our public schools.

How can we do that?

If you share my belief that public education is a civil right and cornerstone of our democracy, then we must embrace our responsibility to be vigilant advocates. Failing to act will lead to the loss of this great American institution of public schools for all children.

At NSBA, we are working to strengthen our advocacy in Washington and in each state, aligning and focusing our resources and providing more relevant services to our state associations.

Our voice is already gaining resonance. We are going on the offensive in an effort to change the conversations about public education. NSBA wrote legislation, “The School Board Governance and Flexibility Act,” that would boost local school board authority and curb the U.S. Department of Education’s overreach. This bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in March and now has 20 co-sponsors.

We are creating advocacy strike forces to combat those who seek to privatize our schools or impede local decision- making. NSBA worked with the Louisiana School Boards Association to provide legal, communications, and advocacy support during its recent lawsuit to stop the state’s taxpayer-funded voucher scheme. The state’s Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional in May, but we know that is not the end of the story. School choice proponents --  backed by wealthy entrepreneurs and for-profit investors --  are cooking up new ploys in Louisiana and several other states. NSBA and your state association will be there to stave them off.

While NSBA has been a visible player in Washington politics for years, we have yet to achieve our potential as an advocate and ambassador for public education. We must lead the conversation about public education and school board governance and fight for the futures of our more than 50 million schoolchildren.

To do so, we will create an army of advocates that will go to battle, through the courts and legislatures, for public education and school board governance. We will build strong partnerships with state association members, corporate stakeholders, and other national groups to increase our effectiveness.

We need your help. As school board members, you are an influential community leader. Through your leadership, we will engage parents, educators, and community and business leaders as core stakeholders. We will move beyond issues that divide us and forge alliances around the opportunities that can unite us.

I encourage each of you to join our army of advocates. Never forget your significance as we move forward. Never forget the power of one person to make a difference in the lives of our schoolchildren.

Now multiply one by 90,000 --  the number of school board members in the U.S.

With this power, we will be that voice for public education to ensure that our public schools empower our nation to fulfill its potential --  one child at a time. Together, we can.

David Pickler (dpickler@nsba.org) is the 2013-14 president of NSBA and a member of Tennessee’s Shelby County School Board.