Working on LegitimacyPosted: March 15, 2010
Hello blogosphere. My name is Adam Johnson, current Chair of Legislative Affairs and newest writer for the Campus First. I wish to use this spot to further my own goals of increasing representation for students at all levels of government and work with others across the state, and country to ensure its success. The following is a summary of one of Legislative Affair’s recent high profile trip to Washington to work on education.
I feel this event is a good step in increasing relevancy and hope that we can soon begin seeing fruits from our labors.
Last week I, along with Vice-Chairs Sam Polstein and Kyle Woolwich of ASM’s Legislative Affairs Committee and Chair Carl Fergus and Vice-Chair Tom Templeton of ASM leadership traveled to Washington D.C. to join other Big Ten schools in the Big Ten Summit on Education. The focus of this event was to communicate with the other schools about our own legislative goals and priorities, and then actually speak with our own legislators about these priorities and seek reassurance that they are working on issues pertinent to us as students.
This event revolved around the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) and asking legislators to continue to support higher education in general. We spoke with Senator Kohl from Wisconsin and Senators Burris and Durbin from Illinois, asking them to support this bill in the Senate and all three offices were very supportive of both higher education and the intent of this specific bill. Now that the bill is included in the Budget Reconciliation Bill, we ask all members of Congress to continue to support higher education and even though the combined issues of Health Care Reform and SAFRA are contentious, we urge Congress to think about their constituents and what they need when voting on this bill.
In addition to the SAFRA legislation, we spoke to our Congressmen about the current state of the work study program and about ways that we think the program could be improved. Chair Fergus has been working diligently on this issue here at Wisconsin and raised very good talking points to our legislators about how work study is not directly benefiting students but instead is a subsidy to the schools. Many legislators were intrigued by this novel approach to the concept of work study and eagerly asked for more information which we are now in the process of compiling.
This Big Ten Summit was the culmination of a campaign spearheaded by myself and Leg. Affairs from early in the Fall Semester. In July, Student Council asked me to investigate the SAFRA legislation and report back on how ASM could best work on this bill whether in favor or against it. After weeks of meetings with our own financial aid experts, telephone interviews with education policy advisors to Congressmen, and compiling our own statistics on who receives financial aid and how the loans are actually distributed among the student population. Following our report to Student Council, we contacted the other Big Ten schools and schools across the country seeking to form a joint legislative force to encourage SAFRA’s survival. Many schools got back to me and it was ultimately decided that for logistics sake, we would work in the frameworks of our own conferences and so we started collaborating with other Big Ten schools. Many of the other schools were not even aware of this bill until we contacted them asking for support in this, and through our email exchanges, we informed several schools about what SAFRA would do for them and unanimous support followed these learning periods. Legislative Affairs then followed up with a letter writing campaign directly to over thirty Senators asking for their support in this legislation.
Colleen Smith, the Governmental Affairs Director at Penn State University and I worked closely together to craft a plan that would help each school do their part to ensure SAFRA’s passage. At the January conference of the Association of Big Ten Students, Director Smith brought forth a resolution of support of SAFRA that urged all member schools to directly lobby their legislators. This resolution passed unanimously and the idea of a Summit meeting held in Washington where each school could attend and lobby as a united Big Ten students front was created. Colleen and I conversed extensively about the planning of this event and crafted two days worth of work, involving workshops with the United States Student Association, the Roosevelt Institute, direct lobby visits with our officials, and informal caucus time where the schools could talk with each other about legislative issues in their own states and strategies to work on them.
Coming from this event, we have a plan to sponsor an annual Big Ten Governmental Affairs Committee meeting where the schools assemble and talk about what our collective national legislative priorities are and plan events throughout the year on our own campuses to further this goal. Being held in August, this committee meeting would serve as a spring board for the year, allowing simultaneous events to be planned for across the Big Ten to help promote our goals and should the legislation require it, a Big Ten wide lobby day in Washington to raise more awareness.
I, along with Leg. Affairs is very excited about this moving forward. It represents a culmination of work done by Leg. Affairs and myself about the specific SAFRA legislation and it also sets the stage for further legislative integration with the Big Ten, the schools most similar to our own in terms of size, and education standards in the country. It is my personal goal to promote this integration across the Big Ten and to help ASM be able to truly affect legislation on the national level. I am proud to be working on this matter and encourage
I promise my next post will be shorter and not copied from another document. Live long and prosper.