By Felix Perez
With the political crazy season in full swing as governors and legislators attack educators’ rights, benefits, salaries, professionalism and pensions, it would be understandable if those educators were too preoccupied to lobby their member of Congress to discuss education policy.
But lobby they did. Nearly 170 people from Hawaii to Massachusetts and everywhere in between, all focusing on No Child Left Behind.
As talk and high-level meetings in Congress began intensifying early this year for the possible reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, also called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), NEA put out a nationwide call to action to its members to meet with their members of Congress back home during the April congressional recess.
The goal: ensure members of Congress hear the personal stories of teachers and education support professionals about how ESEA negatively affects their students and schools.
The volunteer recruitment effort is NEA’s first-ever back-home lobbying campaign staged entirely online.
“It’s a perfect marriage of our grassroots capacity and technology,” said Mary Kusler, NEA’s senior lobbyist. “Our members are the absolute best messengers when it comes to educating elected officials. No one has a better first-hand understanding of why ESEA must be fixed.”
Bob Thesman, a counselor at Blue Valley Northwest High School in Overland, Kan., came away impressed from his lobby team visit. Thesman and two other NEA members met with the district director of first-term Rep. Kevin Yoder.
The meeting was an “excellent introductory visit to a new congressman’s office,” said Thesman, adding that Congressman Yoder is “generally supportive of the need to make lots of changes” to the law and “does not like teaching to the test.”
Thesman and all the other back-home lobby team members prepared for their visits with information on a specially created NEA member-only webpage. There, among other things, they could view a lobby visit training video, print policy documents to give to their elected official, review a lobby visit checklist, and report back on their meeting.
Pat Schmidt, a music teacher in Wautoma, Wis., is no stranger to back-home lobbying visits. Her team has been meeting since 2005 with Rep. Tom Petri, a member of the House Education Committee. Because of his regular interactions with Schmidt and other educators from his district, Petri has held three all-day visits to local schools and two listening sessions on the reauthorization of ESEA.
Whether it is their first back-home lobby visit or one of many, Thesman, Schmidt and other lobby team members agree: the person-to-person connections with elected officials make a big difference.
Not every educator has the time to do face-to-face visits to educate their congressman about how ESEA harms the learning and teaching process. If you want to make a difference, go to fix ESEA and tell your elected representatives to listen to the experts who know what works best in the classroom!