July 19, 2016

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Legislative Advocacy Conference from a First-Timer's Perspective

I am Deanna Atkins, AASA’s advocacy and communications specialist. In this role, I split my time between the communications and advocacy departments, and I was on site for last week’s legislative advocacy conference. As I expand my work with the policy and advocacy team, I shadowed a handful of superintendents as they lobbied on Capitol Hill as part of the conference, to share their perspectives and round out our coverage of the event.

While my task at hand was to tag along with superintendents who are new to the conference, it’s also important to note that this was my first Legislative Advocacy Conference as well – and I could not have dreamed up a better time.

Being among 200 school system leaders who traveled from all across the country to the nation’s capital all to be a part of three jam-packed days of panel discussions, meetings on Capitol Hill, and presentations from members of Congress was an empowering feeling – and it’s no wonder why the agenda included a few receptions. They were well deserved by all!

The conference took place July 12-14 at the Marriott Metro Center in Washington, D.C. Presented in partnership by AASA and the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO), and sponsored by AXA, the conference was highly regarded among both veteran and first-time attendees. 

“The conference [met] my expectations and being able to meet several colleagues from across the nation was a highlight,” said Randy Russell, superintendent, Freeman School District 358 (Wash.) and AASA Governing Board member. “You can always learn from others and perspective is an important piece when thinking about how our issues in Washington compare with the issues across the U.S.”

While Day No. 1 of the conference was filled with panel discussions on hot topics from ESSA implementation to Perkins & Career Technical Education, Day No. 2 truly asked the most of attendees as they planned ahead to meet with their Congressional delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to discuss their respective districts' needs and priorities.

Conference rookie Alicia Henderson, superintendent, Bellevue Union School District (Calif.), had not previously lobbied at the Hill, but she came prepared with three meetings scheduled – all of which she handled exceptionally well.

“Three meetings were a comfortable amount,” said Henderson. “The best meeting was my first meeting with Representative Mike Thompson. I appreciated being able to talk about my district with him because it felt like he really cared.”

“I also appreciated meeting in Senator Feinstein’s office because I liked having my colleagues there with me. Even though the three of us had just met, it was great to have a unified voice – we were all on the same page,” said Henderson.

When attending meetings on the Hill, many superintendents identified attendees in their states and agreed to meet with representatives as a group, instead of flying solo. In fact, a team of Michigan superintendents had 11 meetings on the Hill, which is a pretty incredible amount.

AASA Governing Board member and Superintendent of Westwood Community School District (Mich.) Sue Carnell also attended the conference for the first time and said the overall conference was “better than expected.”

With the highlight of conference being the Hill visits for Carnell, her advice to herself for next year is to “be a little more vocal. I mostly observed this time.”

Echoing that, superintendent Russell said, “The advice I would give to a first-time attendee is to connect and attend with someone - like Michelle and Frank - they were great mentors and really helped me maximize what the conference had to offer!”

“Next year will be another great opportunity to learn even more and be better connected with national issues and trends,” said Russell.

You can learn more about AASA’s Legislative Advocacy Conference and view materials shared during the conference here. I would also encourage you to check out the conference Storify, which highlights all of the dialogue that took place on Twitter. 

Lastly, a sincere "thank you" to all of the conference attendees who allowed me to be a part of their experiences. I look forward to seeing you all again next year!

July 19, 2016(1)


Of Appropriations, Advocacy Conference, and More

This blog post is a catch-all, including a few additional items related to last week's legislative advocacy conference as well as a few advocacy-related updates and items.

Appropriations: Last week, AASA joined the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO) in sending a joint letter to the House Appropriations Committee as it considered its Labor/Health/Human Services/Education/Other (where education funding lies) funding proposal for FY17. Check out this chart for a side-by-side comparison of FY16 levels, the President's FY17 proposal, the Senate bill and the House bill. The joint letter calls on Congress to address the true long-term pressure impacting education investment, the funding caps. 

"We commend the sub-committee for their work to move an LHHS budget, acknowledge the education-related increases in the bill and recognize the budget pressures facing each appropriations sub-committee, we continue to emphasize the importance of eliminating the discretionary funding caps. Adequate investment in education is at the foundation of our nation’s economic viability and the current caps significantly hamper the ability of Congress to invest in education."

Advocacy Conference: In an update to the blog post from last week, here is the full set of advocacy conference materials, including power point presentations, talking points AND the feedback form. 

Environmental Protection Agency Takes Action on PCB Regulations (Impacting School Districts, Opportunity to Participate in July 28 meeting): The EPA is circling back to an earlier proposal, from 2013, related to the removal of PCBs (a known carcinogen) from public buildings. In this newest iteration, they are expected to relay that they are narrowing the focus to public schools and day care facilities. The meeting is set for 2 pm ET on July 28 and will be open to your participation via webinar. You can read the invitation letter hereThis blog post will be updated when the enrollment information is available

  • Background: In 2013, the EPA started an effort aimed at reducing the presence of PCBs (a known carcinogen) from public buildings. This would include public schools. AASA collaborated with ASBO and the National School Boards Association (NSBA) to respond to the proposal, which was sensitive to balancing the critical responsibility of environmental safety for students and staff with the fiscal implications of removal timelines. This effort is emerging with renewed focus this month, and will narrow its requirements for removing PCBs to only public schools. Talking points:
    • School administrators, school board members, and school business officials remain steadfast in their commitments to providing the students they serve with an excellent education in a safe learning environment, which includes removing potentially harmful environmental factors (like PCBs).  
    • With any federal policy or regulation, the success of the end goal—in this case, elimination of light ballasts with PCBs—depends as much on the policy itself as it does in recognizing the importance of state and local leadership as well as the unintended consequences, costs, and burdens that may come with the policy or regulation.
    • Current regulations (the “lamps rule” through the U.S. Department of Energy [DOE]) have implications for the phasing out/removal of PCB-bearing light ballasts. Given that this rule is already accelerating the removal of old fluorescent light ballasts (FLBs) nationwide, and the compelling data from our comprehensive national data, we question the need for further regulation from the EPA.
    • While we appreciate EPA being diligent in bringing in state and local governance groups in an effort to grow support for providing state and local funding to help offset the costs associated with this redundant regulation, the reality is two-fold: this pressure has been in place for years and few states have acted proactively to provide support to eliminate PCBs. Also, explicit to schools, 31 states are currently spending less per pupil than they did in 2010. This push for funding for PCBs would be at the direct expense of making state education budgets barely break even with levels more than six years ago.

ESSA Call to Action: Earlier this summer, USED released their proposed regulation for the accountability and state plans provisions under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). These regulations, once final, will guide the implementation of the ESSA accountability provision. Now is the time to weigh in, to provide feedback for USED to consider as they review and revise the proposal into its final form. AASA reviewed the proposed regulation and  shared our summary and analysis last month. This call to action is designed to support our members in their work to respond to this proposal. AASA has drafted a template response for you to use as part of our Call to Action. All responses must be submitted by August 1. Full details are available on the blog.


July 19, 2016


Moving Beyond Pilot Phase: District Conditions for Scaling Personalized Learning

Today's guest blog post comes from Matt Williams, Vice President of Policy & Advocacy at KnowledgeWorks and features their latest report, District Conditions for Scale.

KnowledgeWorks is a social enterprise focused on ensuring that every student experiences meaningful personalized learning that allows him or her to thrive in college, career and civic life. By offering a portfolio of innovative education approaches and advancing aligned policies, KnowledgeWorks seeks to activate and develop the capacity of communities and educators to build and sustain vibrant learning ecosystems that allow each student to thrive.

The District Conditions for Scale were constructed upon the hard won lessons of district level trailblazers from across the country. These district leaders piloted, assessed, recalibrated, and scaled without an instruction manual. KnowledgeWorks interviewed over 30 district leaders from across the country in an effort to refine, align, and validate the conditions against what is working in the field. The conditions and the cross cutting meta-themes provide a framework for district leaders to scale personalized learning.

Personalized learning is stuck in the school pilot phase. There are countless examples of personalized learning environments and schools from coast to coast. We have all seen that great school and the world of possibilities it offers for the students that attend the school. But how do we move from the isolated examples to whole systems designed around providing personalized learning options for all students? How do we build a school system, a learning system, with personalized learning at the core?

One important step in this work is to identify the conditions of scale that exist at a district level. KnowledgeWorks released District Conditions for Scale: A Practical Guide to Scaling Personalized Learning. The report focuses on the conditions that a K-12 school district should put in place to support the scaling of personalized learning. The conditions that we put forth and examine are based on interviews with district leaders from across the country that are leading system level change around personalized learning. 

One might ask why focus on scaling personalized learning at the district level? First, the district level is closest to the schools and thus the students as well as to the educators. Moreover, the district level has the most control over system vision, curriculum, and instruction, as well as formative assessment and student supports. Secondly, by solving for scale at the district level we gain a clearer vision for what supportive and catalytic policy can look like at both the state and federal level creating a better aligned, more supportive education system that is oriented towards putting the student at the center of the system. 

The conditions themselves aren’t rocket science or even unfamiliar ranging from curriculum to instruction, from student supports to professional development, from learning environments to leadership development. What gives the conditions their power is a predisposed drive towards personalized learning as well as cross cutting meta-themes. Several meta-themes emerged as the interviewees discussed their experiences: 

Vision: Included in all comments from district leaders, directly or indirectly, was the idea of an aligned vision. All parts of a district should be aligned to the vision, including professional development, the selection of curriculum and instructional practices, and the process of innovation. While it was assumed that the vision would include student achievement, district leaders focused on the general idea of having a vision rather than the specifics of their districts’ visions.

Culture: The shared vision of a district clearly informs the system culture that a district will establish. For many of the district leaders, a key element of culture is expectations around innovation. Many of the districts were forced to make changes with no additional, or in some cases decreased, resources and money. As a result, innovative thinking is an expectation at all levels, including in partnerships, and especially encouraged at the school level. District leaders emphasized the importance of continuous improvement and fixing problems immediately.

Transparency: Resulting from the notion that members of the education community must feel safe to make mistakes, transparency was another overarching theme of interviews with district leaders. Districts need to be transparent to the board, unions, parents, partners, and the public. 

The District Conditions were constructed upon the hard won lessons of district level trailblazers from across the country. These district leaders piloted, assessed, recalibrated, and scaled without an instruction manual. It is our hope that these conditions begin to help districts from across the country implement a more aligned, supportive education system that is oriented towards putting the student at the center of the system through an expressed focus on personalized learning.