State Legislators Conference: What’s Working and What’s Not at the Local Level

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On Monday, June 14, the U.S. Department of Education welcomed 25 state legislators from 17 states for a day-long conference with senior Department officials in Washington, D.C.  The conference provided an opportunity for legislators to learn more about the Administration’s education initiatives. More importantly, Department officials heard directly from legislators about what is and is not working in education at the state and local level.

Stacey Jordan, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, opened the conference by stressing the critical role that state legislators play in education reform saying, “Our work cannot be done without you.”  Deputy Secretary Tony Miller emphasized the importance of partnerships and collaboration, noting the unprecedented work being done by local and state officials to improve education.

With more than two hours of conversations throughout the day, state legislators spoke candidly with Department senior staff members, including Under Secretary Martha Kanter, Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development Carmel Martin, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement Jim Shelton, Assistant Secretary for Vocational and Adult Education Brenda Dann-Messier, and Senior Advisor on Early Childhood Jacqueline Jones, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali, and Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Thelma Meléndez.

The highlight of the day was a working lunch, led by Representatives Scott Hochberg of Houston and Alisha Thomas Morgan of Cobb County, Georgia. The legislators had a lively discussion that touched on a variety of topics, including higher academic standards, teacher quality, and charter schools.  Senator Susan Paddack of Oklahoma wrapped up the hour-long conversation by underscoring the importance of education to our nation’s future and the need to refocus our energies on doing what’s best for the students.

Secretary Duncan closed the conference with remarks and by answering legislators’ questions on a range of issues.  He praised the legislators’ courage and leadership, noting that the “amount of reform at the state level is remarkable.”  He emphasized that “good ideas come from the local level” and he challenged everyone in attendance to rise to the coming challenges, saying that the reform agenda is just the start of the work needed to raise student achievement, close the achievement gap, and ensure that today’s students can compete in a global economy.

The day-long State Legislators Conference is the latest in a series of outreach efforts to state and local elected officials by the Department’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. The events give department officials valuable feedback on Administration initiatives, such as the Race to the Top fund, the Blueprint to reform the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and other efforts to reform schools.

Cole Bakely