Donald Webster, president of the Manchester Township Board of Education and vice president for finance of the NJ School Boards Association joined more than 750 school board and state school boards association leaders in Washington to advocate for strong public schools for all students.
Webster was in Washington, D.C., to take part in the National School Boards Association’s new Advocacy Institute, held Feb. 2-4, 2014. The focus of the NSBA Advocacy Institute centers on building year-round advocates for public education and local school governance in public, legal, and legislative arenas. School board members engage in NSBA’s Federal Relations Network, a national grassroots legislative effort that urges members of the U.S. Congress to make public education a top priority.
“We need strong public schools to ensure that our students are well prepared for college and careers in today’s rapidly changing global economy,” said Webster. “As school board members, the National School Boards Association’s Advocacy Institute helped us learn about emerging federal and national issues and the importance of adding our local expertise to the conversations in Washington to ensure that new policies are beneficial to all of our students.”
Resources and funding are significant concerns for local school districts. School districts like Manchester have recently seen cuts in their federal and state budgets because of the across-the-board cuts last year through the process known as sequestration. In a day-long visit to Capitol Hill, Webster joined fellow school board leaders to ask Congress to accelerate investments in public education that support local efforts to continue to raise student achievement and appropriate full funding for Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates.
School board members are also keeping a close eye on federal intrusion and overreach that has impacted local school district policy and programs in ways beyond the specific intent of law. NSBA has worked with a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives to introduce the ‘Local School Board Governance and Flexibility Act,’ HR 1386, which recognizes the benefits of local school district governance and ensures that maximum local flexibility and decision-making are not eroded through the U.S. Department of Education actions.
Webster joined other New Jersey school board members who met with Congressman Chris Smith to urge passage of HR 1386 as well as the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
In his statement to Congressman Smith, Webster said that the struggling economy has brought about a dramatic increase (+17%) in the number of Manchester students who qualify for free and reduced lunches and Title I services over the past few years. “The further loss of Title I funding, or even flat funding, will inhibit our ability to provide intervention tutoring, remedial courses and screening services and hurt the progress we have made with these challenged students over the last several years,” said Webster. He urged Congress to fund at least 40% of local IDEA costs as was originally intended by the law.
“Our local school districts are struggling to comply with the new stop-gap NCLB waivers that were approved by the Federal DOE and have added a whole new level of accountability and control. These added provisions include increased student testing, exhaustive teacher and administrator evaluations, and increased State/Federal oversight. All of these new mandates are costing local districts and taxpayers significant amounts of money to implement and maintain on an ongoing basis. This is money that local districts just don’t have due to state and federal funding cuts, the poor economy and the dramatic loss of local property tax ratables,” Webster stated. “This situation is untenable and inexcusable. Congress needs to act now to overhaul ESEA.”
The Manchester Township School District consists of five schools with approximately 3,250 students. The district has three elementary schools (Whiting, Ridgeway and Manchester Twp.), Manchester Township Middle School, and Manchester Township High School. The Ridgeway and Manchester Twp. elementary schools are classified as Title I schools. Over 25% of the student population now qualify for free or reduced lunches. The district also operates the Regional Day School at Jackson, a special needs school, for the State of NJ.
NSBA is a not-for-profit organization representing state associations of school boards and their more than 90,000 local school board members throughout the U.S. NSBA advocates for equity and excellence in public education through school board leadership.