NASSP members attend the 2017 Advocacy Conference on Capitol Hill.

“Strength in numbers” is a mantra we’ve all heard before, and it’s increasingly vital as we think about advocacy and influencing decision-makers. Members of Congress receive hundreds of thousands of phone calls, emails, letters, and social media posts that influence their positions on education issues, and congressional staff will tell you that they tally up the responses before a key vote.

When it comes to federal education issues, one would hope that they’re listening to school leaders—you are the people on the ground who are most directly affected by those decisions and can explain how they impact your teachers, students, and community.

Our vision at NASSP involves having great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student, and we serve as your national voice in Washington, D.C., educating policymakers and lobbying for the resources and policies that will help school leaders be successful. But NASSP can’t do it alone. We regularly partner with like-minded organizations and build advocacy coalitions to give us a wider impact.

Our greatest ally on school leadership issues is the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), because the needs of our nation’s principals and assistant principals tend to remain constant across grade levels. They all require excellent training and professional development opportunities, a fair evaluation process that allows them to enhance their leadership skills, and resources to ensure all students have the support they need to be successful.

As Congress worked to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NASSP and NAESP represented the interests of school principals, meeting regularly with congressional staff and administration officials to emphasize the issues of importance to school leaders who work directly in the schools. We were instrumental in securing language in the final law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which allowed states to reserve up to 3 percent of their Title II, Part A funding specifically for school leader activities. We also helped ensure that principals were considered key stakeholders who must be consulted as states developed their ESSA implementation plans.

Expansion of Principal Posse

While our advocacy relationship with NAESP has flourished for the past decade, in 2017 we expanded the informal “Principal Posse” to include the American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA), New Leaders, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), and Learning Forward in our fight to save Title II funding. Even though Congress recognized the importance of high-quality teachers and principals when they passed ESSA in 2015, President Donald Trump eliminated funding for the program in his FY 2018 budget request.

Our organizations spearheaded a sign-on letter to congressional leadership on Title II that included 47 national organizations and 112 state organizations. We also worked closely with our congressional champions on a “Dear Colleague” letter that was signed by 31 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and 28 U.S. Senators. Additionally, the NASSP senior manager for federal outreach and engagement led numerous coalition meetings with key congressional staff, sharing how state ESSA plans emphasized the importance of school leadership and intended to use Title II funds in new and innovative ways.

Two Days of Action

The Principal Posse organized two Days of Action on Title II—one in June and one in August 2017. For the first time ever, we used a Thunderclap, which coordinates Facebook and Twitter users’ accounts to send an identical message—in this case, “Millions of teachers & principals depend on #TitleIIA for PD to improve schools. Congress must fund #TitleIIA”—at the exact same time. We exceeded our goal of 100 supporters by 479 percent and reached nearly 1 million people. More than 380 principals also emailed their members of Congress through NASSP action alerts, urging them to support continued funding for Title II.

While we were disappointed that the U.S. House of Representatives followed the president’s directive and eliminated Title II in its funding bill for FY 2018, Senate leaders heard our collective voices. The Senate Appropriations Committee included level funding of $2.09 billion in the bill they passed in September 2017, noting the number of teachers, principals, and other school leaders who contacted their offices.

As Congress continued to debate FY 2018 funding levels well past the start of the fiscal year on October 1, 2017, NASSP strengthened its advocacy collaborations with NAESP. In March, we held the first joint Capitol Hill Day in almost nine years. Attendees of the NASSP Advocacy Conference and the NAESP National Leaders Conference scheduled hundreds of meetings as preK–12 delegations representing all of the principals in their states.

Funding for Title II was a key talking point, but the school leaders also advocated for public schools, urging their legislators to oppose private school vouchers and other proposals that would siphon money away from public education. In addition, they urged their members of Congress to increase funding for high-need schools through Title I, special education services, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA); comprehensive literacy programs; and career and technical education.

Since the House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed a bill in December 2017 to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA), principals also discussed the role of higher education in ensuring all students have access to high-quality teachers and principals. They urged their members of Congress to support the Recruiting and Retaining Effective School Leaders Act, which would provide loan forgiveness to principals and assistant principals who commit to serve in low-income schools. If enacted, the bill would help encourage prospective school leaders to enter the profession, incentivize the strongest school leaders to work in the nation’s highest-need school districts, and reduce principal turnover.

Principals also advocated for the Educator Preparation Reform Act (H.R. 3636/S. 1694), a bill that would improve accountability for teacher and principal preparation programs and expand the Teacher Quality Partnership Grants under Title II of HEA to include residency programs for principals.

Plans are already underway for another joint Capitol Hill Day with NAESP in 2019, and our organizations are working again with AFSA to celebrate the great leaders in our nation’s schools during National Principals Month in October. I hope you will consider joining these efforts, lending your voice to the growing coalition of school leaders who have made great strides for America’s schools—and have important work left to be done.

Amanda Karhuse is the director of advocacy for NASSP.

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NASSP Advocacy Conference
March 18–20, 2019
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