The Last Word February 2013

With another Presidential term and a new Congress, NSBA is preparing for changes in Washington. Our advocacy team and grassroots lobbyists are getting ready for more budget battles and debates on the many needs of public schools.

But the biggest change you may see will come from within NSBA. We are just beginning to restructure our national organization to be more responsive to our state associations and their school board members. And as part of what we’re calling the “New NSBA,” we are going to significantly increase our presence on Capitol Hill, in the courts and in the news media, and to give school board members more tools and opportunities to get involved.

Last year we created the National School Boards Action Center, a 501(c)(4) organization that will allow NSBA to greatly expand its lobbying and advocacy efforts. (Keep abreast of the center’s activities at www.nsbac.org and its You Tube channel.)

Our goal is to bring NSBA to a higher level in education policymaking. We will strengthen our presence both in Washington and nationally in partnership with our state association members, we will be proposing and crafting more legislation related to K-12 education, and we will be mobilizing a stronger grassroots network of school board members. To do this, we will leverage technology, mass media, social media, and communication strategies.

We already are moving to make these changes. NSBA has drafted legislation to protect local school board governance and create restrictions on the authority of the U.S. Department of Education to impose requirements on school districts that are burdensome or beyond the intended goals of authorizing laws. We are taking a very active role in addressing threats to federal funding of vital education programs, and we again will be making a push for a comprehensive reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

In all this, we are making several important points. First, public schools are community assets that need to be governed effectively by elected school board members, who are directly accountable to the people they serve. Second, the federal role in education should be directed to supporting and assisting local school leaders. Third and foremost, we all should be working together to enhance education opportunities for children. This is best done when federal officials work with local school leaders, rather than direct them.

NSBA embraces continuous improvement as a vital goal for public education, and we intend to offer constructive suggestions to address the pressing challenges schools are facing. Yet, we will stand firm against those who would simply reshape the school system to achieve their own personal or corporate financial objectives.

These are big steps to meet big ambitions. But this type of action is needed, given the increasing pressures on public education and school boards. We also are battling a well-funded and well-organized movement that wants to undermine local school governance through private-school vouchers, ill-defined charter school laws, and other means. We must respond directly and forcefully to each of these challenges.

In this work, NSBA has a distinct advantage. Our organization is not a special interest group that lobbies for its members’ personal benefit, but rather as a means by which elected school board members can work with their state and federal lawmakers to create policies that support public schools and the more than 52 million students they serve.

We have much work to do, but we are well on our way -- envisioning the future we want and working to create it. In adopting this plan, NSBA’s board of directors reminded us of the words of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, who famously said: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” We want to move NSBA to a new place, with a sense of urgency and purpose. We hope you will join us on this mission.  

Thomas J. Gentzel (tgentzel@nsba.org) is executive director of NSBA.