School-Board Members Lobby

By Robert Rothman — February 05, 1986 2 min read

A 650-member delegation from the National School Boards Association, meeting here Jan. 26-28, told members of the Congress that their handiwork could devastate public education at a time when many Americans are demanding an increased commitment to educational excellence.

In talks with their home-state senators and representatives, members of the group’s Federal Relations Network cited the Gramm-Rudman- Hollings law, the Reagan Administration’s proposed Chapter 1 vouchers, and the Administration’s support for the elimination of federal income-tax deductions for state and local taxes.

“We fear that these proposal--separately or collectively--can effectively undo much of the effort being given to deliver excellence and maintain and strengthen quality schools,” said Nellie C. Weil, first vice president of the N.S.B.A., at a press conference.

The network, which comprises up to three N.S.B.A. members from each Congressional district, meets here annually to lobby for the nation’s 97,000 school-board members. Officials said this year’s turnout was larger than usual, reflecting greater concern over current issues.

In addition to lobbying their Congressional delegations, the members were addressed by several key lawmakers, including Representative William H. Gray 3rd, chairman of the House Budget Committee, and Senator Daniel P. Moynihan, a member of the Senate Finance and Budget committees.

Senator Moynihan called on the delegates to lobby hard to preserve education funding, warning them that the proposed cuts could mean “the end of federal assistance to education.” He also pledged to lead the fight to maintain the deductibility of state and local taxes.

The school-board representatives were said to be most concerned about the effects of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings. The N.S.B.A. estimates the law could reduce federal education spending by a total of at least 22 percent in the 1986 and 1987 fiscal years.

Together with the potential effects Of the Chapter 1 and tax-deductibility proposals, the members warned, the cuts could put local boards in a financial bind, forcing them to cut staffs and services. And, they noted, state and local governments may be unable to make up the difference.

Instead of cutting aid to education, the board members suggested, the Congress should reduce military spending or raise federal taxes.

In discussing their prospects for a successful lobbying effort, some members conceded that the school boards have not always been forceful advocates in Washington. In 1984, for example, the N.S.B.A. rejected as divisive a proposal to form a political-action committee to boost its influence.

But a number of members said the N.S.B.A. has attained a greater level of political sophistication. In particular, they noted, the school boards have begun to form alliances with other interest groups, such as businesses, that see a need for improved public education. In addition, members said, the association will try to work with teachers’ unions, despite their differences. “We will flex a muscle you have never seen before,” said Ms. Weil.

A version of this article appeared in the February 05, 1986 edition of Education Week