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School board members deliver Oregon message to Congress

By Lori Sattenspiel, interim director of legislative services

Members of the OSBA board of directors and legislative policy committee visited Washington, D.C., this week to meet with Oregon’s congressional delegation as part of the National School Boards Association's 2017 Advocacy Institute.  

OSBA members covered a broad range of important issues in meetings held Jan. 31. Members urged Oregon’s senators and representatives to continue refining the Every Student Succeeds Act while also adding flexibility for the state and local school districts. Also on members’ minds was finding a long-term solution to ensure that county timber payments continue to support public schools. Additionally, members expressed concerns about flexibility for districts as they consider changes to the Child Nutrition Act and the need for increased funding for programs that help children living in poverty (Title I) and children with special education needs (IDEA). 

The Advocacy Institute included two days of workshops to help more than 600 school board members from around the nation understand the policy and political climate related to K-12 education issues in Congress. Attendees heard informative and passionate keynote addresses from high-ranking members of Congress, including Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chair of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Rep. Tim Walberg (R- MI), both members of the Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, presidential historian, author and commentator on CNN and “Meet the Press,” gripped attendees with an hour of inspiring comments on the history of several former presidents. She compared former presidents’ challenges before taking office through their time in the White House to the current administration’s lead-up to taking office. She then challenged the new administration to step up to the plate.

A common theme surfaced as each speaker and panel encouraged the attendees to advocate on behalf of their students. It is vitally important for our elected officials in Congress to hear from school board members about all the challenges our students and schools are facing. Face-to-face meetings with our congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., are critical to their understanding of what is happening back home in schools. 

A similar underlying theme surfaced during the day on Capitol Hill. Congressional members appreciated the important role that locally elected school board members play in determining how children in their communities are educated. Oregon has a strong tradition of board members leading at the district level that contrasts with the growing role the federal government is asserting over education through increased mandates and conditions for federal funding. OSBA’s delegation made it clear: Our districts need federal mandate relief and flexibility so scarce resources can be focused on increasing student achievement.

OSBA board members in Washington, D.C., for NSBA's Advocacy Institute included President Betty Reynolds (West Linn-Wilsonville SD), President-elect LeeAnn Larsen (Beaverton SD), Past President Dr. Doug Nelson (High Desert ESD), Vice President Tass Morrison (North Santiam SD), Secretary-treasurer Don Cruise (Philomath SD), Maureen Wolf (Tigard-Tualatin SD), Kris Howatt (Gresham-Barlow SD), Cheri Helt (Bend-La Pine SD) and Hank Perry (Douglas ESD). OSBA legislative policy committee members included Andrew Bryan (Baker SD), Kim Strelchun (Hillsboro SD) and Dawn Watson (Phoenix-Talent SD).

OSBA members visit with U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader (center) on Capitol Hill. (From left: Dr. Doug Nelson, Tass Morrison, Betty Reynolds and Andrew Bryan)   The OSBA board of directors and legislative policy committee spent time in the U.S. Capitol to meet with the Oregon congressional delegation and other members of Congress.