School district leaders joined ASBO International and AASA, The School Superintendents Association, for the 2019 Legislative Advocacy Conference, July 8–10, in Washington, D.C., to learn about education policy issues and advocate for their students. ASBO advocates walked in lockstep with their superintendent peers on Capitol Hill to urge elected officials to fully fund special education programs under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), protect federal funding for Medicaid/CHIP and E-Rate, and much more.
Before the conference began, ASBO International’s Legislative Advisory Committee (LAC) and staff convened to discuss ASBO International’s 2019–2020 Legislative Agenda and prepare for Hill visits to advocate for the school business profession and schools across the nation. The new legislative agenda outlines ASBO International’s legislative priorities, which are education funding, school safety and infrastructure, child nutrition, and health care. It also provides talking points about who ASBO International/school business officials (SBOs) are, common challenges facing U.S. school districts, and practical steps policymakers can take to help schools solve these challenges. (ASBO International members can access these resources on the Legislative Resources Webpage to support advocacy efforts year-round.)
- IDEA special education and ESSA Title I funding: Asked for full/robust funding for FY2020 and to meet Congress’ 40% additional cost commitment. Urged support for IDEA Full Funding Act and Keep Our Pact Act. Shared challenges with shortfalls in IDEA funding and how districts must cut other programs to fill funding gaps. Advocated for reviewing maintenance of effort (MOE) requirements to align with ESSA MOE. Urged Congress to prioritize IDEA and Title I funding above other programs.
- Federal budget/spending caps: Asked to raise budget caps to allow for more investment in L-HHS-ED programs (especially education). Urged offices to fund programs at higher than or at least FY2019 levels and to not cut education funding.
- Career and technical education (CTE) and Head Start/Pre-K: Thanked offices for extra CTE and Pre-K investments for FY2019 and asked for continued support in FY2020.
- ESSA Title IV-A funding: Thanked offices for extra investment in Title IV-A for FY2019 and advocated for strong funding in FY2020. Shared how districts appreciate the flexibility of transferring Title IV-A funds to Titles I or II to address local needs. Shared feedback from ASBO/AASA’s Title IV-A survey to let offices know how important the program is.
School Infrastructure & Safety
- School facilities: Educated offices about how school facilities are funded through state/local taxes, but funding is inadequate and districts hands’ are tied with raising revenues. Urged support for the Rebuild America’s Schools Act to invest federal funding in fixing/repairing schools. Asked offices to keep school facilities as a priority in the larger conversation of a federal infrastructure plan/bill. Shared how costly facilities assessments and treating public health safety issues are (e.g., mold, lead, radon, and asbestos); asked offices for financial assistance in these areas specifically.
- School safety: Shared district experiences with school shootings and financial costs to increase campus security and hire/train school resource officers. Urged for more funding for COPS/STOP School Violence grants and ESSA Title IV-A in FY2020 to finance school safety efforts. Advocated for assisting schools with providing socioemotional care, trauma response, mental health services, counseling, and restorative justice for students and staff.
- 2020 Census data: Informed offices about how census data is used in formulas to calculate funding to high-needs students/schools through SNAP, FRPL/school meal programs, Title I, IDEA, and other low-income assistance programs for children and families. Urged opposition to adding citizenship question to census because it would deter respondents from filling it out, distort data, and adversely impact funding to schools.
- Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR): Advocated for provisions in the next CNR bill that would simplify paperwork, streamline nutrition program regulations and reporting requirements, make nutrition standards easier to comply with, reduce the frequency of administrative reviews and audits on nutrition programs, and increase federal reimbursements for school breakfast. Urged offices to preserve the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) and work in a non-regulatory manner to help schools resolve unpaid meal debts.
- Medicaid/CHIP and IDEA: Educated offices about how Medicaid/CHIP funding relates to IDEA/special education costs and services, as well as the Medicaid billing and reimbursement process for schools. Noted that AASA and ASBO are working together on legislation that would streamline school Medicaid billing/claims processes, so schools are treated differently than hospitals and is easier for districts to participate and get reimbursed. Urged offices to preserve Medicaid/CHIP funding for FY2020 and oppose block grants and program cuts.
- Higher Education Act (HEA) and Teacher Recruitment: Urged that the next HEA reauthorization preserve Title II programs, grants, training, and loan forgiveness programs that help recruit new teachers to the profession and help districts retain them. Urged support for the PREP Act and Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. Educated offices about teacher strike and pay issues going back to the larger problem of inadequate education funding, pension obligations, and unfunded IDEA mandates; fixing other issues will free up local dollars to invest in staff and students.
- E-Rate: Asked offices to use Congressional oversight authority over the FCC to ensure E-Rate funding is not cut and additional caps are not implemented that would undermine the program’s effectiveness. Educated offices about the importance of E-Rate as a federal funding source to schools that helps reduce the digital divide/homework gap between students with reliable Internet access and those without it.
- Forest Counties/Secure Rural Schools (SRS): Advocated for retroactive SRS funding for FY2019 and adequate funding in FY2020 for forest county communities that rely on shared revenues from timber sales to supplement local funding for schools. SRS funding helps rural districts affected by the recent decline in timber revenues in recent years because cutting trees is no longer as widely permitted as before.
In addition to Tuesday’s Hill visits, ASBO International Executive Director David Lewis joined California ASBO member Steve Ward the following day to discuss IDEA funding with several education staffers representing House offices across the state, including the offices of Reps. LaMalfa, McClintock, Cook, Nunes, McCarthy, Calvert, and Hunter. For many of the Hill staff, this was the first time they had heard how much of a challenge unfunded special education mandates were for schools and how difficult it has been for districts to afford rising medical costs to accommodate special education students. Although this is common knowledge to SBOs, it may not be for policymakers, which is why it is so important to get involved and speak with elected officials. School business leaders know a lot about the issues affecting their school communities that policymakers may not. Although ASBO International’s Hill Group will follow up with these offices to ensure SBOs’ voices are heard throughout the year, we encourage members to get connected with their representatives, too.
On the last day of the advocacy conference, attendees had the chance to learn about the 2020 Census’ impact on schools, civil rights issues and the role of the Department of Education, and how immigration policy is impacting schools. Needless to say, the 2019 Legislative Advocacy Conference was an exciting event and opportunity for district leaders to network with peers, learn about a wide range of issues impacting their schools, and sharpen their advocacy leadership skills on Capitol Hill. The connections they made and conversations they had are sure to leave a lasting impact on public policy and education and make a difference for their students.
If you attended the 2019 Legislative Advocacy Conference, we’d love to get your feedback! Please fill out the AASA/ASBO conference survey and access all conference materials here. If you couldn’t attend this year, we hope to see you at next year’s event. Save the date for the 2020 AASA/ASBO Legislative Advocacy Conference, July 7–9, in Washington, D.C. and get more involved in advocacy by joining the Legislative Affairs Community on the Global School Business Network and following @ASBOUSA on Twitter.