By Elizabeth Primas (NNPA/ESSA Program Manager)

The National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) recently held their annual five-day conference in Washington, D.C. to discuss the group’s “collective vision” for the future of education in the United States.

NNSTOY is a non-profit organization serving as a professional home to State Teachers of the Year (STOYs) and State Teacher of the Year Finalists during their years of service, according to the group’s website.

During the conference, more than 200 educators from around the country discussed various elements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Conference participants also visited the Russell Senate Office Building to raise their collective voice and present a collective vision for the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. Teachers reiterated the importance of collaboration with educators “on the front line” in creating language in reference to ESSA. Policy recommendations included appropriations that would continue funding for federal education programs in the FY 2017 budget and the federal government’s continued oversight of ESSA to ensure the law is implemented with the same intention of equity as it was written. Educators were also particularly adamant about the inclusion of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) as an indicator of student success, as well as access to appropriate teacher training to handle situations where students are not demonstrating expected behaviors.

Another priority for NNSTOY was a discussion on school choice. Attendees expressed their concern for the adequate funding of public education in the midst of public support for school choice by Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration.

In addition, NNSTOY’s legislative platform states that: “any school choice option should require the same accountability measures as those required for traditional public schools.”

Educators at the NNSTOY conference also raised awareness about the responsibility of the United States to educate all children, despite class, color, or immigration status.

NNSTOY members recognized the importance of teacher-parent collaboration in education. The importance of the teacher-parent partnership is highlighted in several bipartisan acts supported by NNSTOY that would ensure that the voices of teachers and parents are heard and represented in the decision-making processes.

As a result, NNSTOY representatives spent the majority of their time on Capitol Hill advocating for the following legislation:

— H.R. 3246, known as The Teachers and Parents at the Table Act, amends ESSA to create a voluntary “teacher advisory committee, half of which must be state teachers of the year or finalists.” A comparable parent advisory committee would be established to work in conjunction with teams on decision-making. This act is co-sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.).

—S. 1413, or “The Teachers as Leaders Act,” authorizes the Teacher Quality Partnership Grant program in Title II of the Higher Education Act to create teacher leader development programs. This would help to address recruitment and retention, which is an ongoing problem in most school districts. It also addressed the need for extending the continuum of teacher preparation and development into differentiated career paths. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

—H.R. 2544, also known as the “Teacher Health and Wellness Act” creates a pilot study at the National Institutes of Health aimed at reducing teacher stress and increasing teacher retention and well-being by implementing and analyzing results of a range of programs, including: workplace wellness programs; social emotional learning programs that help teachers improve student engagement; teacher stress management programs; mentoring and induction programs; organizational interventions such as teacher leadership, regarding school management; teacher residency programs with mental health and psychological support; and complimentary health strategies, such as mindfulness meditation and school reorganization. This act is co-sponsored by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio); Reps. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Darren Soto (D-Fla.).

—H.R. 1864 – “the Chronic Absenteeism and Reduction Act” acknowledges the significant impact of chronic student absenteeism on school success and well-being. It amends ESSA to authorize funds to be used for interventions for students who miss 10% or more of school days including data collection, partnering with community organizations, mentoring, school reorganization, extended parent engagement, home visits, evidence based restorative justice strategies and personnel training to build positive school climates and promote social-emotional learning. The bill is currently sponsored by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio).

NNSTOY committed to advocating for the sufficient funding of ESSA. Education advocates recommend that all parents must reach out to their local and federal representatives to let them know how important education is to the successful future of this nation.

Learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act at

(Photo by Travis Riddick for the NNPA)