Federal Dateline

Whiz-Bang Technology Adds to Your Impact

by Nick J. Penning

Where did he (or she) get that idea!”


Could that be you, muttering to yourself when you encounter another uninformed attack on public schools?

You don’t have to accept it quietly. You really don’t. AASA makes it easy for you to have a positive impact, to help influence education policy in Washington in ways that will make a difference to those we serve.

Your professional association uses the latest technology to keep you informed of developments on Capitol Hill and arms you with the facts and phone/fax numbers to make your voice heard in the corridors of power.

Modest Beginnings

So what’s this techno-whiz-bang service and how much does it cost?

It’s a fellowship actually, and the cost is zero.

You and hundreds of like-minded AASA members gather voluntarily, at your convenience, around your personal computer to receive your direct, weekly, personal e-mail with a succinct summary of the last seven days’ federal developments in education and what you can do to enlighten lawmakers before they cast a key education vote.

The technology that makes the AASA Legislative Corps work has developed at lightning speed over the course of the years.

The corps, which began as a list of about a dozen names and phone numbers, relied first on expensive and untimely snail mail before moving on to hit-or-miss phone calls from your association’s Washington staff. Often we left a message on your voice mail that was too long-winded to make sense. What corps members needed was a description of the issue, the nature of the vote we were attempting to influence, the message we needed delivered and your House and/or Senate member’s phone number.

Needless to say, such a system—despite the dedication of members of the nascent Legislative Corps—ended up being a hit or a miss.

Welcome the Web

After a few years, the term “fax” entered our lexicon, and the Legislative Corps grew to 75 AASA members, each of whom had to receive a separate fax to obtain our request. At least corps members finally could get a background summary and contact information that could be read instead of a long confusing phone call.

Still, the corps’ legislative alert process was highly labor intensive. Faxes often didn’t go through and sometimes got lost or misdirected on the receiving end. Consequently, corps members’ calls to their federal legislators could come too late to have an impact on a vote that may have occurred prior to the call.

The fax concept, upon reflection, resulted from the unusual marriage of modern electronic technology with that communications dinosaur, the printed page. Surely, something new and better was out there.

Within a few years, voila! We had the Internet.

AASA Legislative Corps members who had never been able to afford a fax machine were hooking onto the World Wide Web at astonishing speed. So the next stage of corps development was the listserve, an electronic mailing list carrying our AASA Legislative Corps Weekly Report updates on Washington’s education issues of the day. Still, it didn’t offer enough personal information on how to directly contact your own congressional representatives and senators.

Powerful Impact

Today our AASA Legislative Corps system is probably the best anyone in Washington has seen. Every e-mail knows who you are as soon as you open it. Every Weekly Report is accessed via a direct link to an easily read and carefully outlined text. Every alert asking for help comes with a personal greeting, carefully drawn background on the issue, talking points and the names and contact numbers for your House member or both of your U.S. senators.

As a direct result of the AASA Legislative Corps, the Congress tied itself in knots last December over our top priority—mandatory full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Every detail of the president’s education plan had been resolved. The only outstanding sticking point that would not go away was IDEA funding, on which corps members had pounded mercilessly for two years.

In the end, one sole House Republican refused to join us. The margin was that close. However, the stage is set for IDEA in 2002. Legislative Corps members do not give up.

And it all came about through dedicated AASA members, who took a moment of time to access e-mail and make a quick call. Technology is increasing your professional association’s effectiveness with near-blinding speed.

Think of it. From phone calls to duplicating those handwritten tests in the office to photocopiers to fax machines to personal computers and the Internet. What strides! What learning! What impact—in your schools, in your lives, in your government.

To join the AASA Legislative Corps, send me your AASA member number, name and e-mail address.

Nick Penning is a senior legislative analyst at AASA. E-mail: npenning@aasa.org