Education policy is complex – much more so than most people realize. You have funding from at least three sources (federal, state, and local), earmarked for specific purposes. There are federal and state accountability programs, each with different measures of student achievement; challenges of recruiting, retaining, compensating, and evaluating teachers; school choice and different assignment methods; early education, expanded learning, instructional technology, child nutrition, and so much more. For an individual running for office who is a restaurant owner, a biologist, or a lawyer, being knowledgeable enough about education issues to feel confident making decisions about policy can be challenging. Out of this challenge, the Public School Forum’s Education Primer and Candidate Briefings were born.
I mentioned in an earlier post that much of my first week was spent editing and updating the 2014 Primer and Briefing presentation to reflect changes for 2016. This past week, I was able to see that work come to fruition at the Raleigh Candidate Briefing. The briefing was held at the Museum of Natural Sciences, just down the road from the General Assembly building to entice more current and future legislators to attend, but candidates for local offices, such as county commissioner and school board were also in attendance. They were a great audience – sometimes asking tough questions, but generally trying to fully understand issues like charter funding and local supplements.
I also spent more time at the legislature, following the bill I heard debated in committee to the House floor. The first time they tried to debate the bill, there was a clerical error and the wrong version of the bill had been distributed to members. So I had to listen in the next day via the live audio stream, rather than see the debate in person. While at times contentious, I was still impressed with the caliber of discussion I heard from members. Some of that is assured by the theatre of parliamentary order, but many members seemed to be speaking not just to build themselves up, or grandstand, like I think we often imagine of our politicians, but were really trying to parse out the issues at stake and have a dialogue with their colleagues.
I think we sometimes give our politicians a bad rap. We see them as in it for the power, the money, or the prestige. But just as public service is a motivator for those of us on the administrative side of government, I think many of our elected leaders are also driven by a deep sense of public service and a desire to improve economy, efficiency, and equity for all citizens. Perhaps this is obvious, and it probably should be, but in our current national election cycle I think it’s been easy to lose sight of this fact. I appreciated the opportunity this week to see public service motivation in action, not only for the nonprofit staff I work with, but also within the politicians we try to advise.