Sequestration. Race to the Top. Charters and school choice.

Education’s hot topics were on the menu Monday at NAESP’s National Leaders Conference. In presentations from policy experts, principals from around the country got the scoop on the education and funding issues that have Capitol Hill divided.

Principals kicked off their day with a town hall session that highlighted divergent views on the government’s role in education. During the panel, moderated by Education Week editor-in-chief Virginia Edwards, Rick Hess and Andy Rotherham (left) debated controversial issues, including standards-based reforms, the Common Core, and school choice.

One thing that the two scholars agreed on was Congress’s stalled progress on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). They grimly predicted that reauthorization wouldn’t occur until at least 2015.

Crippling divides in Congress came up again in an afternoon panel on looming funding cuts, known as sequestration. In a discussion moderated by Joel Packer of the Committee for Education Funding, staff members from the House and Senate budget committees predicted that sequestration is destined to occur, eliciting ire from several audience members.

“It’s frustrating to look [lawmakers] in the eye and plead our case,” said Chuck Shultz, principal of South Elementary School in Grandville, Michigan. “What do we say?”

Speakers in a second afternoon panel offered some suggestions. Congressional staffers outlined lawmakers’ policy priorities, highlighting again divisions in Congress that will make progress a challenge. Still, they urged principals to share their stories with lawmakers, offering specific examples of policies’ consequences, a sentiment echoed in an earlier presentation by Roberto Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, assistant to President Obama on education policy, acknowledged that the times are tough for educators, but that they must speak up, especially about sequestration.

“I know there’s a lot that’s been demanded of you in this era of standards-based reforms,” he said. “Please make sure your voice is heard. Make your perspective heard when you visit your lawmakers.”

Principals carried that with them Tuesday, as they took to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers and call for policies that support schools, based on NAESP’s 2013 advocacy platform.


Photo courtesy of Lifetouch National School Studios, Inc.

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