Each year the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) holds it annual policy-making meeting in July or August. As I write this, we have just heard two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author, David McCullough, speak on the importance of teaching and learning history.
Yesterday, we heard a panel led by former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt discuss NCSL’s report of its commission on a “New Blueprint for Higher Education.” Governor Hunt was joined by former Senator and current President of the University of Colorado Hank Brown and a representative of the National Association of Manufacturers.
Governor Hunt’s 16 years as chief executive of his state were marked by innovation in public and higher education, including a much-heralded early childhood initiative in public schools.
Pointing to the rapid expansion of higher education opportunities in China, India and other competitor nations, all of the panelists agreed to the need for reform in higher education in the U.S. President Brown advised that the University of Phoenix, a private for-profit institution with several sites in Northern Virginia, including Merrifield, is the fastest growing university in the nation, Brown and Hunt urged greater innovation and accountability as keys to success for public institutions. They also urged more flexibility in scheduling classes, more use of on-line instruction and a much greater emphasis on teaching, particularly by publishing faculty members
President Brown pointed to efforts like some of those initiated in Virginia—more credits for advanced classes in high school, better collaboration between community colleges and four-year and graduate institutions.
All agreed that more partnerships with businesses in development of courses and accountability are crucial. All emphasized the critical importance of more financial aid for undergraduate and graduate students.
Role of NCSL
NCSL is the primary national voice for state legislators. Its Washington staff promotes policies adopted at the Annual Meeting and at quarterly meeting in D.C. and elsewhere. In addition, NCSL has developed an extensive information sharing capacity that allows Virginians to learn how colleagues in other states have handled complex policy matters. I have found this resource to be very valuable, as I have found the workshops and research provided by speakers and NCSL staff.
Policy committee members are appointed by state legislatures. States can send several members to each committee, but all states have one vote on any motion. Any resolution not adopted by super majority of 75% fails.
The Speaker of the House of Delegates appointed me to the Education Committee, along with Delegate Ebbin of Alexandria. Senator Harry Blevins of Virginia Beach is also a member. Needless to say, the re-authorization of No Child Left Behind program was a major topic, with all committee members expressing concern about inflexibility, insufficient funding and limited state input. Since no clear consensus appeared likely on a resolution on the future of NCLB, policy action was delayed until the fall meeting of the Committee.
Also, up for consideration was a resolution of support for the reauthorization of the National Transportation Trust Fund. Unfortunately, a divided committee refused to support the draft resolution calling for the re-authorization. No Virginia representatives were present for the vote.