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National Teachers' Unions Step Up Lobbying Efforts on NCLB Rewrite

UPDATED

Just because members of Congress are back in their home states and districts during this weeklong legislative recess doesn't mean they aren't thinking about the No Child Left Behind Act they are working to overhaul.

In fact, if the two national teachers' unions have their way, it will be one of the only things they think about all week.

The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers are launching separate grass-roots lobbying efforts in hopes of continuing to push their priorities for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), of which the NCLB law is the latest version.

The 3 million-member NEA unleashed its lobbying effort Tuesday in which it plans to mobilize every local union affiliate. Activities include member education, constituent outreach, high-level meetings with members of Congress and staffers, letters to the editor, rallies, and even paid media buys.

"Nationally, every single one of our affiliates will be engaged, and all local leaders and as many as our rank and file educators that can be engaged as possible," said Mary Kusler, NEA's director of government relations, in an interview.

The union began a two-week-long series of TV, radio, and Internet advertisements Tuesday in targeted media markets that align with some of the big players on Senate education committee, where Kusler said there is more hope of maintaining a bipartisan process.

[UPDATE (10:25AM): The $500,000 media blitz, called "Get It Right," includes TV and internet ads that focus heavily on reducing the amount of testing and radio ads focused on the burden of overtesting and also the need for early-childhood education, advanced courses, and smaller class sizes. 

The NEA is targeting the following states, each matching up with a senator on the education panel:

  • Alaska (Republican Lisa Murkowski)
  • Colorado (Democrat Michael Bennet)
  • Connecticut (Democrat Chris Murphy)
  • Georgia (Republican Johnny Isakson)
  • Illinois (Republican Mark Kirk)
  • Massachusetts (Democrat Elizabeth Warren)
  • Maine (Republican Susan Collins)
  • Maryland (Democrat Barbara Mikulski)
  • Minnesota (Democrat Al Franken)
  • North Carolina (Republican Richard Burr)
  • Pennsylvania (Democrat Bob Casey)
  • Tennessee (Republican Lamar Alexander)
  • Washington (Democrat Patty Murray)

"Fundamentally, this is about ensuring the opportunity for educators to engage with their elected officials to make sure they get ESEA right this time," Kusler said. "One of the things our members continually point to is that last time [the law was reauthorized in 2001] educators were not listened to."

Meanwhile, according to a senior staffer at the 1.5 million-member AFT, the union began in-district visits in more than 15 states last week. The move is part of its larger mobilization strategy, which has included more than 17,000 comments submitted to the Senate education committee and hundreds of patch-through calls during last week's House markup of an ESEA reauthorization bill.

Last week the House education committee passed a Republican-backed overhaul of the NCLB law on a party-line vote. The measure is due to be on the chamber floor for debate during the week of Feb. 24.

In the Senate, Alexander and Murray are still working to draft a bipartisan rewrite of the law

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