Federal Dateline

A Textbook Example of Organizing

by Nick Penning

Decisions made under the late-night lamps of junior and senior presidential staffers are often expected to stay out of the light of day until those in power decide the time is ripe. The top dogs want those decisions kept a surprise, at least until an official statement is released, to avoid any pre-emptive strike that might upset a potentially explosive and tightly held new policy proposal. While leaks of government documents and conversations long have been the bane of top federal office holders, your professional association has provided you a way not only to get the facts before they hit the news but also to act in a way that could forestall what could be an educational catastrophe.

Two recent cases demonstrate the power you now have in your hands to bring the force of your profession to the nation’s capital.

A Mobilized Response
Late last fall AASA received word that President Bush’s official budget arm, the Office of Management and Budget, had decided to eliminate from the Fiscal Year 2004 budget (2004-2005 school year) all funding for the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act.

We put out word of this highly reliable leak to the AASA Legislative Corps via its Friday weekly report and within minutes more than 100 letters and e-mails were beginning to flow to the White House and House and Senate members, urging that funding for the Perkins Act be retained.

By the following Tuesday an additional 781 letters and e-mails came pouring into Washington. All told, more than 1,400 letters and e-mails on this one issue inundated both the executive and legislative branches of government. Political appointees in the Bush administration were no doubt furious that their intentions had been revealed. At the same time, they likely were dumbfounded by the rapid electronic response.

Then in December our suppositions about the administration’s commitment to rural schools were confirmed when we learned the Bush budget again would seek to zero out the Rural Education Achievement Program, the AASA-originated program that is helping so many small and rural districts gain access to federal funds.

Within minutes of our alert more than 100 AASA member-generated e-mails tumbled into Washington inboxes. While the Bush budgeteers pursued the “no help for rural schools” path, members of Congress were swayed to act otherwise and REAP funding was preserved.

Weekly Reports
So what is the AASA Legislative Corps?

The corps is an AASA member service and as such is comprised of AASA members interested in federal legislative issues. All a member has to do to join is send an e-mail with one’s name, e-mail address and AASA membership number to npenning@aasa.org with the message “Sign me up for the Corps.”

Instantly you’ll be enrolled in the AASA Legislative Corps, which gives you the right to receive every Friday a copy of the AASA Legislative Corps Weekly Report, a succinct summary of the week’s education activity in Washington. And when the time is right, you’ll receive an AASA Legislative Corps Alert, asking you to go to our quick and easy “Take Action” web page, from which you can send directly to your own members of Congress your own message on an upcoming vote that has the potential to affect public schools and your profession.

The AASA Legislative Corps is fast, informative and effective. Currently one in 10 AASA members belongs to the corps. Join your colleagues today to keep Washington on its collective toes.

Let the voice of education and those we serve be heard above the political din. Knowing you can make a difference makes all the difference in the world.

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