Over the past few weeks Jenny Stonemeier, TASH’s Education Policy Director, has been conducting informational meetings with members of Congress who represent the SWIFT schools, districts, and states. These meetings are part of the SWIFT Policy team’s annual plan to engage a broad range of stakeholders in the work of the SWIFT Center. Congress is an essential stakeholder in the engagement work most basically because they authorized the money to fund the SWIFT Center. But there are more important, and more substantive, reasons beyond money.
The SWIFT Center is poised to significantly impact the educational outcomes of students in the schools and districts, and Congress is interested in knowing about that. Specifically, Congressional representatives want to know which schools and districts are beginning the implementation of SWIFT. Additionally, SWIFT is different from most national technical assistance centers because SWIFT is a schoolwide framework and not just a single intervention. It is important that Congress knows what SWIFT is all about.
When representatives from the SWIFT Center and TASH visit Congress—even on an annual basis—we have the chance to build real relationships with the members and their staff. This provides us a valuable opportunity to engage with members of Congress whom we might not usually have the opportunity. Often times, the Congressional representatives of the SWIFT states and districts are on committees of jurisdiction other than education or employment. While this may not seem like an immediately beneficial relationship to cultivate; we know that Congress is a dynamic body and that members often move between committees as leadership changes take place. The relationship that we build today is always an investment for the future.
The values-based framework of SWIFT—that of equity and excellence for ALL students—is compelling to Senators and Congressional Representatives. Educational equity is a conversation that can, and sometimes must, be had over several visits. By having annual informational briefings with the education staffer, we have the opportunity to put the issue of educational equity squarely on the agenda of these members, while they have the chance to cultivate a deeper understanding of SWIFT’s work.
TASH, as leaders of the SWIFT policy team, is engaging in the work that states/districts/schools are undertaking in around policy alignment to support SWIFT implementation. We can use that first-hand information to create a communication cycle between the work in the states and Congress. Sharing the work of the SWIFT states and districts—their successes and opportunities—means that we also get a chance to hear directly from the congressional members about their perspectives and their guidance
Informational meetings with members of Congress are valuable for a variety of reasons; they confirm SWIFT as an effective and efficient federal investment, and they serve to expand the audience that is engaged in the equity work that is so deeply aligned with TASH. If you want to learn more about the SWIFT Center, please visit the SWIFT website (http://www.swiftschools.org).