As Congress gears up to combat the “fiscal cliff” before January 1st, I am in the process of wrapping up my internship with the NCLD Policy Team. Spending the fall of my senior year in Washington, DC has been an incredibly eye-opening opportunity to engage with education policy in the nonprofit sector.
Since coming to Washington four months ago, I have come to realize the breadth of organizations and individuals making up the core advocacy base for children. Each of these organizations represents a particular group of children and contributes to meaningful conversations about issues, making sure the needs of diverse groups are taken into account as new policy is created. This fall, NCLD worked with many different organizations in support of legislation that would benefit people with learning disabilities (LD). For example, NCLD recently attended a press conference in continued support of the ABLE Act. This act would allow families to accrue tax-free savings to benefit their child with a disability without risking the loss of vital government benefits. The act has been championed by organizations representing people with many different types of disabilities. I am particularly invested in support of the ABLE Act—in addition to my work at NCLD, I have worked with my local chapter of The Arc and Camp Northwood and interacted first-hand with families that would directly benefit from this legislation. It is striking how powerful it is that organizations with different missions can work collectively to represent diverse populations in this very important piece of legislation.
My specific project as an intern has been compiling education data from the states of the current Congressional Education Committee members. I collected IDEA/Title 1 funding information for each state as well as proficiency test scores and high school exit data. Discrepancies for students with LD, such as drop out rates and regular high school diploma achievement rates, have been the most interesting piece of the data collection process. These discrepancies emphasize the importance for parent and local advocates to address policy on the state level. Such actions are of crucial importance in contribution to the federal policy work done by organizations like NCLD.
It was also particularly interesting to be immersed in the world of Capitol Hill during a Presidential election. The 2012 election season encouraged dialogue on education policy issues, such as teacher accountability, voucher programs, and charter schools. Though the election is now behind us, it will be interesting to monitor the direction taken by the Obama Administration and the Department of Education. How will the government split focus in education policy between K-12 and higher education programming? What is the future of ESEA reauthorization? What impact will state waivers have on accountability standards?
It definitely takes more than a semester to understand the nuances of Washington, DC as a city and as a hub for policy activity. In the face of possible sequestration (funding cuts) as well as in anticipation of a new class of members of Congress, the upcoming months will be of special importance for education policy. I am confident that as I go back to Hobart and William Smith Colleges to complete my senior year, and as I get on my feet as a young professional or graduate student, the type of work I do will be influenced by these questions and the experiences I have had as an intern for NCLD. You can stay tuned in and informed on the important issues I mentioned and more with the monthly LD Action newsletter and Happening On the Hill updates.