Federal Dateline

Weighing In on Candidates’ Ideas

by Nick Penning

Normally at this time of year we’re getting ready for the holidays. However, this December is unlike any we’ve seen in modern memory. Because, in just a few weeks or even days, some of the key states will hold their political primaries and caucuses to determine who may become the next president of this great land.

And given what was handed to public education after the 2000 election, we all have reason for concern about the man or woman who could be the one to occupy the Oval Office a year from now.

But it isn’t just the top of the ballot that matters. Every person running for any office that can have an impact on public schools deserves our careful scrutiny. What they are saying about schools? Do they surround themselves with children in brochures and photo-ops and then make snide remarks about the public schools those children attend?

At AASA we have put together a collection of the education proposals offered by each of the nine Republicans and eight Democrats in the running (as of early November) for the office of president. You can view these policy statements on the AASA website at: www. aasa.org/policy/2008PresCandidatesEducation Statements.cfm

An Active Role

Based on what happened in December 2001, when No Child Left Behind was approved, we should get in the habit of not just reading position papers, but also quizzing candidates for public office — mayor, school board, county board, state delegate, U.S. House, U.S. Senate — to solicit candidates’ views on the schools and what they think needs to be done for or to them.

Think about getting the parents of your students and your school district employees involved, as well. Their stake in the process of schooling is every bit as vital as yours. Having a chorus of voices echoing in the ears of political candidates delivers so much more power than a solo act.

We know most officeholders use good schools as a major prop in their campaign literature. The key, though, is to find out what that means. You could call his or her campaign office and ask whether he/she (or a staff person) might consider chatting with you about your community’s public schools and what is truly needed. That way, you’re in on the ground floor of the candidate’s thinking on what he or she can do to be of genuine assistance to schools.

If you’re not comfortable making this visit alone, then put together a little delegation of folks from your office, and possibly a principal, a parent and even a teacher to go with you. Or consider forming a delegation of your fellow superintendents, working in the same congressional/state legislative district.

Most elected officials, regardless of the level on which they operate, have no clue as to how schools are run. Often, in legislative committee meetings, you’ll hear a prominent legislator discuss how things were when he or she was in school. That could be the true extent of their knowledge of public education today.

They may never give a thought to the reality that you run the largest dining spot in town; oversee the biggest transportation service; employ more people than most commercial businesses; and represent one of the primary purchasers of goods and services.

But when you call and ask to share your ideas, you could move those issues into the fore, establishing the beginnings of a working relationship in which the officeholder runs his or her ideas by you before introducing them into the public arena. Imagine how pleasant it would be to help shape or stop an idea that would otherwise have you pulling your hair out.

Most officeholders are well-intentioned, but they need the thoughts of more than just a recent college graduate with a political science degree when they get ready to draft a legislative bill or resolution.

Source Provider

Think this over: There’s a whole nine months of campaigning ahead during which you can develop a strategy. You don’t have to pick sides. You may tell yourself you want to wait until the elections are over before offering some suggestions. On the other hand, an early discussion puts you in a prime position for having a solid impact on a potential officeholder’s policymaking agenda. If you hold back, you may find yourself listening to or reading about a new legislator’s proposal that could be the makings of another NCLB-like nightmare.

Being on a candidate’s Rolodex as an objective source may yield more benefits for children and schools than you ever imagined.

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