Earlier this month, 200 school business leaders and superintendents traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the 2021 AASA/ASBO International Legislative Advocacy Conference and advocate for public education.
At this annual advocacy event, school district leaders from across the country travel to the nation’s capital to learn about key federal issues impacting their states and schools. Then, they spend a day on Capitol Hill putting their leadership skills to the test by advocating for their students’ needs with their elected representatives.
On the first day of the 2021 conference, members of ASBO International’s Legislative Advisory Committee (LAC) met in the morning to discuss ASBO International’s 2021–2022 U.S. Legislative Agenda and prepare for their Hill visits that week. Committee members highlighted several issues they planned to raise in their meetings to advocate on behalf of the profession and their schools, including:
- How school districts are spending federal COVID-relief (ESSER) funds during the pandemic and concerns about delays in fund disbursements to schools.
- Broadband connectivity needs in school communities, especially rural areas.
- Student academic learning gaps in math and reading during remote learning.
- The need for flexibility with IDEA maintenance of effort (MOE) requirements during school closures since many districts had fewer costs for student transportation and staff.
- K–12 school infrastructure needs (before and after the pandemic) to provide safe and healthy learning environments for students.
- Increasing need for social-emotional and mental health services for students and staff.
- Nutrition policy reforms to make the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) more financially viable and implementing a universal school meal policy.
Later that afternoon, the conference kicked off with informative panels and sessions on K–12 infrastructure and school construction policies and practices; feeding students during the pandemic; and a federal policy update from the AASA and ASBO International advocacy team. Attendees heard remarks on child nutrition and education issues from Cindy Long, the Acting Administrator for Child Nutrition Programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food & Nutrition Service, and Cindy Marten, the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education (ED).
Before the first day concluded, attendees broke out into small discussion groups with ED officials to discuss spending challenges with American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds and lessons learned to implement for the 2021–2022 school year. District leaders met with Ian Rosenblum, Acting Assistant Secretary from the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education; Donna Harris-Aikens, Acting Assistant Secretary from the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development (OPEPD); and Loredana Valtierra, Special Assistant from the OPEPD. ASBO International’s LAC members raised concerns about administrative burdens with applying for the ARP’s new Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) program and asked questions about IDEA MOE compliance requirements in light of new ARP IDEA funding available to districts.
ASBO International Executive Director David Lewis kicked off day two of the conference and welcomed guest speakers at the event’s Congressional Breakfast. Representatives from CDC and FEMA and several members of Congress shared encouraging remarks with district leaders and highlighted resources and information available to help educators navigate local COVID-19 response and recovery efforts in their communities.
Afterwards, attendees ventured off for a Hill Day experience like no other, with school business leaders and superintendents adapting on the fly and learning to advocate in new ways to accommodate ongoing health and safety protocols. ASBO International’s LAC was no exception with their own packed “hybrid” Hill Day schedule, meeting virtually on Zoom and in person. District leaders used this opportunity to reflect with their peers on how COVID-19 impacted their communities and share their unique stories, challenges, and lessons learned with policymakers.
Carrying the wishes and hopes of their students and communities on their shoulders with advocacy talking points in hand, ASBO International’s LAC members met with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to share how the federal government can best support school district recovery efforts and ensure students are supported throughout and after the COVID-19 crisis. LAC members met with staff from the following offices:
- Senate: Sens. Heinrich (D-NM), Cornyn (R-TX), Lujan (D-NM), Merkley (D-OR), Tillis (R-NC), Gillibrand (D-NY), Young (R-IN), Menendez (D-NJ), Cruz (R-TX), Murray (D-WA), and Kaine (D-VA)
- House: Reps. Fernandez (D-NM), Herrell (D-NM), and Castro (D-TX)
- Committee staff from the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Senate Appropriations Committee
The Legislative Advisory Committee discussed K–12 education funding issues, including how districts were spending their federal relief dollars, and thanked lawmakers for providing this critical aid to schools. They made the case for needing strong Title I, IDEA, and Title II-A funding in the fiscal year 2022 appropriations package to support low-income and special education students and professional development for K–12 staff and teachers.
Committee members also urged Senate offices to support dedicated investment in school infrastructure so districts have the resources they need to provide safer learning environments. They asked Senators to support S.96, the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act, which would invest $130 billion in grants and bonds targeted to high-need districts to repair and renovate K–12 facilities.
Other topics raised during Hill calls and meetings included broadband connectivity and “homework gap” issues, IDEA MOE compliance concerns, expanding CEP and universal meals in schools, and responding to the many anticipated academic, social emotional, and mental health needs of students as they return for in-person learning this fall.
During the final day of the event, school business leaders and superintendents attended panels and sessions addressing spending and procurement issues around using American Rescue Plan ESSER funds; leveraging federal funding from the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund and the E-Rate program to support district broadband and technology needs; and the impact of recent U.S. Supreme Court cases on school district policies and practices.
This year’s advocacy conference was jam-packed with timely information and professional development for school district leaders on education policy issues and provided an unparalleled opportunity to advocate for students during a critical time as schools recover from COVID-19.
If you couldn’t attend this year, we hope you will join us in Washington, D.C., at the 2022 conference! Stay tuned for updates at asbointl.org/LAC. For more coverage of the 2021 Legislative Advocacy Conference, follow @ASBOUSA and the conversation on Twitter via hashtags #AASAadv and #ASBOcate.
And, if you’d like to get more involved in education advocacy, consider volunteering for ASBO International’s Legislative Advisory Committee! Contact us for more information.