Each year, ASBO International and AASA co-host the Legislative Advocacy Conference, a unique professional development event that helps school district leaders learn about federal policy issues impacting their schools. Attendees have the chance to network with colleagues across the U.S. and build relationships with lawmakers as they advocate on Capitol Hill for their schools and public education. This summer, more than 180 school business leaders and superintendents traveled to Washington, D.C. for the 2022 Legislative Advocacy Conference, July 12–14.
The LAC members also discussed what was happening in their states and districts to identify common issues challenging school business professionals across the country and prioritize their asks during their Hill meetings. Deteriorating and aging school buildings were a major concern for districts in several states, as well as rising inflation and the fast-approaching ESSER fiscal cliff coming in 2024.
Members also discussed school safety and security issues in light of the recent tragedy in Uvalde, Texas; labor shortages in K–12 education and the need for additional investments in labor pipelines and workforce development; and how much COVID-19 school meal waivers helped districts feed students throughout the pandemic.
The committee noted how many districts still need time, flexibility, and grace from lawmakers regarding spending ESSER funds quickly and wisely to support students’ needs, and increased funding for longer-term programs like IDEA and Title I so schools have reliable revenue streams to address learning needs beyond 2024. There were no shortages of issues to bring up with lawmakers that week.
Later in the afternoon, attendees learned from sessions that addressed how to speak with the public on polarizing issues in education (e.g., masking in schools, critical race theory, etc.); what public expectations are of districts regarding spending ESSER funds and how to spend sustainably; how educators can encourage lawmakers to rethink and update poverty formulas that affect education funding; and federal policy updates on appropriations, E-Rate, school safety and mental health, school infrastructure and electric bus programs, child nutrition, and other issues.
Photo: ASBO International Executive Director David Lewis kicks off the second day of the Legislative Conference.
On the second day of the conference, ASBO International Executive Director David Lewis welcomed attendees and shared words of encouragement with ASBO and AASA members before they headed to the Hill. During the conference’s Federal Official Breakfast, attendees heard remarks from several VIP guests: Cindy Long, Administrator for Food and Nutrition Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Congressman Bobby Scott, Chair of the House Education and Labor Committee; Suzanne Goldberg, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic Operations and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education; Janet McCabe, Deputy Administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency; Jessica Schubel, Director of the Affordable Care Act and Health Care for the Domestic Policy Council at the Executive Office of the President; and Jessica Rosenworcel, Chair of the Federal Communications Commission.
Once it was time to go to the Hill, ASBO International’s Legislative Advisory Committee split into several teams to cover as many offices as possible. These school business rockstars met with the following offices to advocate for the profession and for public education:
- Kaine (D-VA), Grassley (R-IA), Brown (D-OH), Braun (R-IN), Merkley (D-OR), Burr (R-NC), Booker (D-NJ), Hickenlooper (D-CO), Murray (D-WA), Cornyn (R-TX), Casey (D-PA), Wyden (D-OR), and Menendez (D-NJ)
- Doyle (D-PA), Dean (D-PA), Lamb (D-PA), Scanlon (D-PA), and Bonamici (D-OR)
- Executive Agencies:
- Department of Energy (DOE)
Some of the issues ASBO International’s Hill team discussed with federal officials included:
- Unfunded mandates in special education and the need for full IDEA and Title I funding; rising needs and costs for educating students during the pandemic.
- Flexibility with spending ESSER funds (extending the obligation deadline to September 2026, especially for infrastructure projects and to address longer-term learning needs beyond 2024).
- Federal funding to help address school infrastructure needs, whether for HVAC/ventilation upgrades, renewable energy projects, other health/safety issues, or investing in modern facilities/equipment to support STEM and CTE programs, etc.; the unique challenges that small/rural and large/urban districts face with financing and completing construction projects.
- The need for COVID-19 school meal waivers and appreciation for passage of the Keep Kids Fed Act; additional flexibility and funding for nutrition programs as districts deal with supply chain disruptions, labor shortages, rising food/supply costs, and other issues; expansion of Community Eligibility (CEP).
- The need to reconsider poverty formulas, emergency assistance programs, universal meals policy, and other lessons learned during COVID to inform better policy when Congress updates its child nutrition reauthorization (CNR) bill.
- District challenges with labor issues across all positions; the need for additional CTE, workforce development, and labor pipeline investments to address shortages.
- CHIP/Medicaid funding, billing, and administrative burdens to schools; the need to simplify these programs for schools so more can participate and better address student health needs.
Many of the offices ASBO International’s team met with expressed support for increased IDEA and Title I funding, providing additional flexibility for ESSER spending and operating nutrition programs, and exploring future legislative options for federal school infrastructure funding. Lawmakers were sympathetic to district challenges dealing with inflation, supply chain issues, and labor shortages, and were appreciative of the data that ASBO International members shared in the association’s ESSER spending survey report.
To help districts address teacher shortage issues specifically, Senator Casey’s office shared these resources with ASBO and AASA about the Public Student Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), since teacher student loan forgiveness can be a helpful tool to recruit and retain teachers in the profession, and there are currently special COVID-19 flexibilities available for the PSLF program to make loan forgiveness easier for educators.
Photo: ASBO International's Legislative Advisory Committee at the 2022 Legislative Advocacy Conference after a busy day advocating on Capitol Hill.
On the final day of the conference, school business officials and superintendents attended sessions that covered federal updates from recent Supreme Court rulings, USED’s Office of Civil Rights, the Department of Justice, and the Biden Administration; ESSER compliance on allowable spending, timelines to obligate and liquidate funds, and maintenance of equity requirements; as well as a forecast of the 2022 midterm elections and implications for K-12 education.
All in all, it was a jam-packed conference with lots of informative sessions and resources on federal policy issues, great networking opportunities for SBOs and superintendents to connect across the country, and invaluable opportunities to build relationships with lawmakers and make a positive difference in education.
If you couldn’t attend this year’s conference, we hope you will join us at the 2023 ASBO/AASA Legislative Advocacy Conference, July 11–13, in Washington, D.C.!